Psychiatric severity and behavior change in alcoholism

Mary Marden Velasquez, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Individuals who are diagnosed with a chronic mental illness and an alcohol use disorder comprise a high risk population that challenges the mental health care system. Effective treatment for the dually diagnosed, who are characterized by heterogeneity in their psychiatric diagnoses, their substance use patterns, and their current degree of dysfunction, presents a challenge. Several integrated treatment models have been developed that attempt to concurrently treat patients' psychiatric and substance abuse problems. At this point in the development of these "dual diagnosis" programs, treatment planning is hindered by a lack of knowledge about the relation of psychiatric severity to the process of recovery from alcohol abuse and dependence. The present study sought to advance the field's understanding of the relation between psychiatric severity and the process of behavior change through an examination of the relation between dimensions of psychiatric severity and Prochaska and DiClemente's Transtheoretical Model (TTM) constructs. The TTM, which focuses on identifying the processes of change that appear to underlie the modification of addictive behaviors, provides a way of conceptualizing and measuring specific elements relevant to the desired behavior change. Knowledge of the relation between these constructs and psychiatric severity will enable treatment planners to develop dual diagnosis programs which target clients' needs with a much higher level of specificity. One hundred-thirty two alcohol dependent patients in a dual diagnosis treatment program were assessed on psychiatric severity (defined as number of symptoms and level of distress resulting from symptoms) and the Transtheoretical Model constructs. The constructs include stages and processes of change for alcohol use, alcohol decisional balance, and alcohol abstinence self-efficacy. Results indicate that the TTM variable of "temptation to drink" is most strongly related to psychiatric severity: the more psychiatric distress a person is experiencing, the more he or she is tempted to drink. The "cons" of drinking were also related to psychiatric severity, indicating that participants who were experiencing more psychiatric distress also endorsed as important a higher number of the negative aspects of drinking. Additional aims of this investigation were to determine whether participants' scores on the Transtheoretical Model variables were associated with their: (a) severity of drinking, defined as frequency, quantity and consequences of use, (b) previous psychiatric and substance abuse treatment episodes, and (c) functional impairment. Associations were found among these variables and each of the key constructs of the Transtheoretical Model. Each association is explored in detail and implications for treatment programming are discussed.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Public health|Mental health

Recommended Citation

Velasquez, Mary Marden, "Psychiatric severity and behavior change in alcoholism" (1997). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9809552.