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Alexithymia & Addiction

Alexithymia and Addiction

While not everyone is forward or expressive with their emotions, some people struggle to even identify their emotions.

Not only can this be distressing for the individual, but it could also negatively impact their relationship with others. In some cases, it may even lead to addiction.

What is Alexithymia?

Alexithymia is a psychiatric term that refers to the inability of someone to identify, describe, or express their emotions or the emotions of others. It is not considered its own mental health disorder but can often be linked to other conditions such as autism spectrum disorder. One study suggests that as much as 10% of the general population exhibits some traits of alexithymia.1

Alexithymia symptoms may include:
  • Difficulty identifying emotions
  • Problems articulating emotions
  • Appearing withdrawn
  • Lack of imagination
  • Removing emotions from thoughts and decision making
  • Lack of empathy for others
  • Not reacting to other’s emotions as expected

The Connection Between Alexithymia & Addiction

Although these traits can be connected to various behavioral conditions, there does seem to be a strong link between alexithymia and substance use disorders.

Up to 78% of people with alcohol use disorders may have some level of alexithymia as well as 42 to 50% of people with illicit drug use disorders.2 These rates are far higher than those of the general population that is only around 10%. Study examples of the connection between alexithymia and drug addiction include the inability of MDMA, opiate, and alcohol users to correctly perceive emotional faces. Regular cocaine users have also shown unusual responses to emotional images.2

Because the connection between alexithymia and addiction is so strong, some researchers believe that alexithymia is a pre-existing trait that increases the risk of developing a substance use disorder.1 One study even found the alexithymia could predict alcohol consumption among social drinkers.3 This idea suggests people who are struggling with their own emotions as well as their ability to connect with others may turn to drugs and alcohol for help. This coping mechanism becomes a habit, and an addiction will develop as a result.

Alexithymia & Addiction Treatment

Because alexithymia may be a factor that leads to substance abuse, people with higher levels of alexithymia may have a harder time staying sober if alexithymia is not addressed during treatment. Some research suggests that alexithymia was linked to a higher risk of relapse among those who underwent an alcohol detox program, but research on the topic still needs to be done.4

At Banyan Treatment Centers, we understand that substance use disorders can stem from a variety of factors. To give patients their greatest chance of finding long-term success in recovery, we conduct full clinical assessments before treatment. This evaluation not only allows us to create an individualized treatment plan meant to address the patient’s unique needs but also to ensure that each patient is placed in the appropriate level of substance abuse treatment.

If you or someone you love needs help for an addiction, stop waiting. Reach out to us today at 888-280-4763.


  1. NCBI- Alexithymia and Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Complex Relationship
  2. NCBI- Alexithymia and Addiction: A Review and Preliminary Data Suggesting Neurobiological Links to Reward/Loss Processing
  3. Pub Med- Alexithymia and alcohol consumption: the mediating effects of drinking motives
  4. NCBI- Alexithymia in Young Adults With Substance Use Disorders: Critical Issues About Specificity and Treatment Predictivity
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.
Alexithymia & Addiction
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