BACKGROUND: Alexithymia, a relatively stable personality trait characterized by difficulties identifying and describing feelings and externally oriented thinking, has been linked to both substance use disorders and eating disorders. In nonclinical samples, alexithymia is associated with heavier consumption of alcohol and caffeine. Both are psychoactive drugs, but unlike most drugs they are typically consumed in the context of palatable and calorie-rich products.
OBJECTIVES: Given the association of alexithymia with disordered eating, the present study evaluated the hypothesis that heavier consumption of caffeine by those with high levels of alexithymia may be motivated by the palatable and caloric aspects of common caffeine products rather than by drug-seeking.
METHODS: There were 224 participants aged 17-63 years who completed instruments assessing demographics, alexithymia, emotional eating, caffeine consumption, alcohol consumption, negative moods, and reward sensitivity.
RESULTS: As predicted, alexithymia was positively related to emotional eating as well as consumption of caffeine and alcohol, and alexithymia was a significant predictor of caffeine intake in regression models. However, there was no indication of mediation by emotional eating.
CONCLUSIONS: Alexithymia is characterized by deficient emotion regulation and negative moods, hence use of drugs and/or foods to regulate emotions, combined with poor interoceptive awareness, may account for excessive consumption of drugs or foods as alternative emotion regulation strategies in those with high levels of this trait.