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Alexithymia among long-term drug users: a pilot study in Oporto

Journal of Psychology & Clinical Psychiatry
Teresa Souto,1 Hélder Alves,2 Ana Rita Conde,1 Luísa Pinto,3 Óscar Ribeiro4

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Increasing scientific evidence supports an association between alexithymiaand psychoactive substance use. This study explores alexithymia´s expression in sample of long-term drug users, undergoing outpatient treatment in public health units in Oporto, Portugal, as well as its´ association with social demographic risk factors. Data was collected from a sample of 90adults, participants, mainly men (n=90; 87%), considered to be old consumers (81% with a age>40 years), with a mean age of 46.1 years (SD=8.3; range=21–64).Two instruments were used: a sociodemographic questionnaire and the 20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20). More than 51.1% of the individuals were alexithymic, indicating a high prevalence of deficits in emotional awareness. The treatment period varied from 0 to 15 years, included a medication in 55% of cases, mostly methadone (83%). This profile illustrates the gradual aging of the long-term users of illicit drugs and alcohol with a clear diagnosis of an emotional disorder. Therefore, clinicians who develop treatment strategies may want to take into account the likelihood that many of their patients may be alexithymic; in being so, they should integrate specific psychotherapeutic techniques that promote both the identification and the differentiation in emotionally dysfunctional patients.


alexithymia, drug users, mental health, TAS-20, treatment, social demographic risk factors, human dignity, depression, unrest, anxiety, dysphoric states, behavioural expression , mental images, thoughts