Illness representation, coping, and treatment outcome in substance use disorders

Kimberly A Prater, Fordham University


This study examined the relationship between illness representation, coping, and treatment adherence in substance use disorders (SUDs). Illness representation refers to the way in which an individual cognitively understands his or her illness. Leventhal, Meyer, and Nerenz’s (1980) Self-Regulation Model (SRM) is one theoretical model of illness representation that addresses how cognitive factors influence illness coping behaviors and outcome. The SRM has been applied extensively to understanding patient perspectives of physical illness. More recently, the model has been applied to individuals with psychological disorders, including psychotic disorders, mood disorders, and eating disorders. In the mental health literature, illness representation has been found to be related to, and at times predictive of, behavioral outcomes, such as treatment adherence. The present study is notable because it is the first to examine the SRM in substance use disorders (SUDs). Moreover, this is one of the first longitudinal studies examining the relationship between the SRM and outcome in a mental health population. The sample was comprised of 70 patients with SUDs who were receiving outpatient treatment at the St. Luke-Roosevelt Hospital’s Addiction Institute of New York. The findings provided partial support for the study’s hypotheses. Specifically (a) patients who identified a psychological or behavioral cause of their SUD were more likely to be treatment adherent, (b) patients who perceived some personal control over their SUD were more likely to be treatment adherent, and (c) several illness representation dimensions were associated with various coping styles in SUD patients. The SRM appears to be a valid model for understanding SUDs, and the Brief IPQ a reliable and valid tool for assessing illness representation in SUDs. The current results underscore the necessity and value of conducting further research to inform the further development of empirically supported SUD treatment approaches.^

Subject Area

Health sciences|Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Prater, Kimberly A, "Illness representation, coping, and treatment outcome in substance use disorders" (2015). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10016482.