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Factors Associated With Medication Adherence in African American and White Patients With Bipolar Disorder

J Clin Psychiatry 2005;66(5):646-652

Background: African American patients may be less likely than white patients to adhere to maintenance pharmacotherapy for bipolar disorder. The purpose of this study was to examine rates of medication nonadherence, self-perceived reasons for nonadherence, and attitudes associated with nonadherence in these ethnic groups.

Method: 20 African American and 30 white subjects with DSM-IV bipolar I disorder participated in this study. At a single follow-up visit with patients at least 4 months after their first hospitalization for acute mania, we assessed demographics, symptom severity, degrees of adherence, reasons for nonadherence, and self-perceptions regarding factors previously associated with nonadherence using a visual analog scale (VAS). The cross-sectional data that are the subject of this report were obtained from July 1, 2002, through June 30, 2004.

Results: Over 50% of participants in each group were currently either fully or partially nonadherent with medications. Greater than 20% of participants in each group denied having bipolar disorder and described physical side effects from medications as contributing to nonadherence. In principal components analysis of the VAS, 2 components were identified. The first component contained patient-related factors associated with nonadherence, while the second contained a combination of illness- and medication-related factors. African American participants were more likely to endorse patient-related factors associated with nonadherence relative to white participants. Specifically, African Americans self-endorsed a fear of becoming addicted to medications and feeling that medications were symbols of mental illness.

Conclusion: Findings suggest that both African American and white patients with bipolar disorder demonstrate poor medication adherence that they attribute to illness/medication-related factors (denial of illness, physical side effects). However, patient-related factors (fear of addiction, medication as a symbol of illness) accounted for ethnic differences on self-perceived ratings of nonadherence factors. Differences in the reasons for nonadherence relative to culturally biased self-perceptions may help explain nonadherence behaviors in the African American community.