The Great Disrupter: Relationship of Alexithymia to Emotion Regulation Processes and Smoking among Pregnant Women

Braden K. Linn, Paul R. Stasiewicz, Jennifer Fillo, Clara M. Bradizza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Background: Many women continue to smoke during pregnancy, despite known risks, often in response to negative affect. Recent scholarship has begun to examine factors that decrease the success of behavioral treatments for smoking cessation in pregnancy, which are the preferred interventions. Alexithymia is one factor that may interfere with smoking cessation interventions. Alexithymia restricts access to emotional information and increases propensity toward maladaptive behaviors, including smoking. However, mechanisms underlying such effects are largely unknown. Objectives: Using data from a longitudinal treatment study, the present research examined difficulties with emotion regulation as a potential mechanism linking alexithymia and smoking. Pregnant smokers (n = 73; mean age = 24.78; SD = 4.50) completed measures related to alexithymia, smoking, emotion regulation, depression, anxiety, and anger at baseline and then again following eight sessions of Cognitive-Behavioral Smoking Cessation Treatment. Results: Nearly 40% of the sample met the criteria for alexithymia. The alexithymia group reported higher depression, anxiety, and anger. They also reported more difficulties with emotion regulation. In a path analysis, baseline alexithymia had a significant positive indirect effect on number of cigarettes smoked at the end of treatment through difficulties with emotion regulation. Conclusions/Importance: Similar to other studies, alexithymia limits the understanding of emotional information necessary for selection and implementation of adaptive coping responses. Our results extend the literature by suggesting that smoking may be an attempt to manage undifferentiated and unpleasant sensations created by alexithymia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1113-1121
Number of pages9
JournalSubstance Use and Misuse
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 15 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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