Predictors of mental distress among substance abusers receiving inpatient treatment

Ellen Hoxmark, Mary Nivison, Rolf Wynn
Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy 2010, 5: 15

BACKGROUND: Mental distress measured by the HSCL-10 is used as an indicator of psychiatric disorders in population studies, where a higher level of mental distress has been shown to be related to demographic factors such as living conditions and level of education. The first aim of the study was to explore whether mental distress could be a valuable concept in substance use treatment. The second aim of the study was to explore to what degree mental distress among substance users at admission to treatment could be explained by the same demographic factors as in population studies, or whether treatment differences or differences in substance use would be better predictors of mental distress in this population.

METHODS: Patients (N = 185) who received inpatient substance use treatment in five different settings in Northern Norway participated in the study. HSCL-10 was used as a measure for mental distress at admission to treatment. The self-report measures AUDIT, DUDIT and DUDIT-E were used for measuring substance use and readiness for treatment. The patients' clinicians reported demographic and treatment factors. A three-block hierarchical multiple regression analysis was conducted to determine potential predictors of mental distress. Block 1 included demographic variables, Block 2 included treatment variables, and Block 3 substance use variables.

RESULTS: Patients generally reported a high level of mental distress at admission to treatment, and 83% reported mental distress higher than the established cut-off level. Being female, having previously received psychiatric treatment, having a higher score on DUDIT and AUDIT, and using a larger number of substances all predicted a higher level of mental distress. The model explained 32% of the variance in mental distress.

CONCLUSIONS: Mental distress measured by the HSCL-10 can be a valuable concept in substance use treatment. The HSCL-10 can be useful in screening for patients who are in need of further assessment for psychiatric disorders. Female gender, previous psychiatric treatment, and higher use of substances all predicted a higher level of mental distress. The study underlines the importance of assessing the mental health of patients in substance use treatment.

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