Background: Motivation to change has been proposed as a prerequisite for behavioral change, although empirical results are contradictory. Traumatic experiences are frequently found amongst patients in alcohol treatment, but this has not been systematically studied in terms of effects on treatment outcomes. This study aimed to clarify whether individual Trauma Load explains some of the inconsistencies between motivation to change and behavioral change.
Methods: Over the course of two months in 2009, 55 patients admitted to an alcohol detoxification unit of a psychiatric hospital were enrolled in this study. At treatment entry, we assessed lifetime Trauma Load and motivation to change. Mode of discharge was taken from patient files following therapy. We tested whether Trauma Load moderates the effect of motivation to change on dropout from alcohol detoxification using multivariate methods.
Results: 55.4% dropped out of detoxification treatment, while 44.6% completed the treatment. Age, gender and days in treatment did not differ between completers and dropouts. Patients who dropped out reported more traumatic event types on average than completers. Treatment completers had higher scores in the URICA subscale Maintenance. Multivariate methods confirmed the moderator effect of Trauma Load: among participants with high Trauma Load, treatment completion was related to higher Maintenance scores at treatment entry; this was not true among patients with low Trauma Load.
Conclusions: We found evidence that the effect of motivation to change on detoxification treatment completion is moderated by Trauma Load: among patients with low Trauma Load, motivation to change is not relevant for treatment completion; among highly burdened patients, however, who a priori have a greater risk of dropping out, a high motivation to change might make the difference. This finding justifies targeted and specific interventions for highly burdened alcohol patients to increase their motivation to change.