Motivation and Maltreatment History Among Youth Entering Substance Abuse Treatment

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Research has established that maltreatment experiences are common in the life histories of youth with substance abuse problems, and efforts are now moving in the direction of enhancing our understanding of the unique clinical presentations and treatment needs of this population. The current study endeavored to contribute to this body of research by examining associations between experiences of maltreatment and levels of motivation among youth entering outpatient substance abuse treatment. Upon admission, 188 youth (131 males, 57 females) completed a package of self-report questionnaires including measures of motivation to change, motivation for treatment, and history of maltreatment experiences. Results indicated that youth with histories of all forms of maltreatment examined tended to be more aware of the problematic aspects of their substance use, more ready to engage in treatment, more motivated by feelings of shame, and more motivated by external influences. Emotional abuse was the form of maltreatment that predicted level of motivation most strongly. Emotional abuse was particularly strongly associated with the form of motivation reflecting shame regarding substance use, predicting this form of motivation over and above other factors previously reported to be associated with motivation, such as severity of substance abuse and age. While clinicians are increasingly attending to exposure to traumatic events among youth entering substance abuse treatment, these findings suggest that attending to experiences of emotional abuse is also important. Such experiences appear to be related to treatment motivation and may be important to treatment processes and outcomes for these vulnerable youth.

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