Do you find yourself declaring “I just can’t even right now,” periodically throughout the day? Are you so overwhelmed by the current state of whatever you are experiencing (I mean, the lines at Target are back to the kids clothes – would it KILL them to open up some more registers? I JUST CAN’T EVEN RIGHT NOW!) that you are unable to fully articulate your feelings? Don’t worry – me, too. Do you drink coffee? That hot, daily life source, improved upon by copious amounts of sugar and milk? So do I, and it turns out there might be a connection between the two. Australian researcher Michael Lyvers (and some of his closest friends) has published results of a study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs wherein it has been suggested that individuals who consume significant amounts of caffeine, such as coffee, experience difficulty expressing and identifying their own emotions.
The study, aptly titled Caffeine Use and Alexithymia in University Students, focused on a survey of 106 college students and shows a pretty stunning correlation between coffee drinking and the inability to put feelings into words. Alexithymia, by the way, is Greek for “no words for feelings,” so the fact that coffee drinkers may not have words for their feelings should be more than made up for by the fact that Greeks have a word for everything else. Alright, so, where was I? (Someone should study the effects of caffeine on my train of thought and how often I derail it on side journeys. Like this.) The big result of the survey is that “Alexithymics reported consuming nearly twice as much caffeine per day on average compared to non-alexithymic controls or those with borderline alexithymia.” Now, this does not consider a reverse correlation – the possibility that alexithymic people just naturally consume more coffee than non- and border alexithymic people. It is possible that alexithymics just need caffeine to deal with their inability to express themselves. Yes, maybe that is what we need!
It is important to take a step back before declaring one’s void of emotional assessment a result of coffee and/or caffeine consumption. Not only is alcohol (a substance regularly used on college campuses) use related to alexithymia, the survey itself was a “self-report questionnaire” via the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS), which includes statements like: “I am often confused about what emotion I am feeling.” and “It is difficult for me to reveal my innermost feelings, even to close friends.” That means that instead of scientists and researchers actually observing alexithymia in study participants, they relied on the assessments of each participant on themselves. Essentially, the data could be reporting a student’s concern that they may have alexithymia instead of actual observed alexithymia. Additionally, in the data of this study, TAS was directly correlated with participants’ reported anxiety, apathy, dis-inhibition and executive dysfunction.
The moral of this story is that further testing is needed to designate whether there is any real and significant relationship between caffeine and alexithymia. Lyver and gang may very well be onto something, but until they clean up their test group, isolate outside variables, and replace the self-assessment component of the research with actual scientific observation, we won’t know for sure. In the meantime, I will just continue my journey of emotional inexpressitivity and take delight in the fact that I, like the Greeks of yore, can make up words, too.