University of Oulu

Irina Patwardhan, W. Alex Mason, Mary B. Chmelka, Jukka Savolainen, Jouko Miettunen & Marjo-Riitta Järvelin (2019) Prospective relations between alexithymia, substance use and depression: findings from a National Birth Cohort, Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, 73:6, 340-348, DOI: 10.1080/08039488.2019.1634758

Prospective relations between alexithymia, substance use and depression : findings from a National Birth Cohort

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Author: Patwardhan, Irina1; Mason, W. Alex1; Chmelka, Mary B.1;
Organizations: 1Boys Town Child and Family Translational Research Center, 948 Bucher Cir., Boys Town, NE 68010 US
2Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
3Center for Life Course Health Research, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
4Medical Research Center Oulu, Oulu University Hospital and University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
5Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, MRC PHE Centre for Environment and Health, School of Public Health, Imperial College London, UK
6Unit of Primary Care, Oulu University Hospital, Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: accepted version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.4 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Informa, 2019
Publish Date: 2020-12-15


Purpose: This study examined a developmental model that links affect-regulation difficulties in childhood with three dimensions of alexithymia in adolescence (difficulty identifying feelings, difficulty describing feelings, and externally oriented thinking) and substance use and depression in adulthood, while accounting for cumulative contextual risk in childhood, and testing potential gender moderation.

Methods: Multiple group path analyses were conducted using data from the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1986 (N = 6963). Analyses used data collected during prenatal/birth, childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood periods.

Results: Our examination of early precursors for alexithymia indicated that the associations of affect-regulation problems in childhood with alexithymia were stronger for girls, potentially putting girls with affect-regulation difficulties in childhood at higher risk for developing alexithymia in adolescence. The associations of cumulative contextual risk in childhood with alexithymia, substance use disorder, and depression diagnosis in adulthood were significant for both girls and boys. Our findings in regard to substance use and depression disorders revealed that alexithymia in adolescence predicted depression diagnosis in adulthood, particularly due to a contribution from the alexithymia domain of ‘difficulties identifying feelings.’ However, none of the alexithymia domains was directly associated with substance use disorder in adulthood.

Conclusions: Our study contributes to research that links alexithymia with difficulties in affect regulation and cumulative contextual risk in childhood, yielding findings that may be relevant for preventive interventions.

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Series: Nordic journal of psychiatry
ISSN: 0803-9488
ISSN-E: 1502-4725
ISSN-L: 0803-9488
Volume: 73
Issue: 6
Pages: 340 - 348
DOI: 10.1080/08039488.2019.1634758
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 3124 Neurology and psychiatry
Funding: The analyses were supported by National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institutes of Health, [Grant # R01 DA038450]. Support for the Northern Finland Birth Cohort was provided by the European Commission [Grant DynaHEALTH—H2020—633595, EU QLG1-CT-2000-01643] (EUROBLCS) [Grant no. E51560], NorFA [Grant no. 731, 20056, 30167], Academy of Finland [#268336], and USA/NIHH 2000 G DF682 [Grant no. 50945].
EU Grant Number: (633595) DYNAHEALTH - Understanding the dynamic determinants of glucose homeostasis and social capability to promote Healthy and active aging
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 268336
Detailed Information: 268336 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Copyright information: © 2019 Taylor & Francis. This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Nordic Journal of Psychiatry on 01 Jul 2019, available online: