A new report shows that among the 669,000 adults admitted for substance abuse treatment for the first time last year, an average of 15.6 years had elapsed since the first time they started using the substance they were primarily being treated for.
The study, Length of Time from First Use to Adult Treatment Admission, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), indicates that while the average time between first use of a substance of abuse and first treatment for it may vary by type of substance and demographic groups, in almost all cases it involves a lag time of several years.
“This study shows that the damaging consequences of substance abuse can often be undetected or unacknowledged for many years—undermining many aspects of peoples’ health and well-being, as well as the lives of those around them,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde.
“That is why it is essential that we work to prevent substance abuse in the first place, and in instances where it happens, identify the problem and get people the treatment they need as soon as possible so that they, and their families and friends, do not have to endure years of needless suffering.”
The study showed that on average, the length of time between first use of a substance and first treatment entry was longer for males than females (16.5 years versus 13.8 years). In terms of substances of abuse, the average length of time between the first use of, and treatment for, alcohol was the longest (20.2 years), while prescription painkillers was the shortest (7.8 years).
The study is based on data from SAMHSA’s Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) – a reporting system involving treatment facilities from across the country. The study was developed as part of the agency’s strategic initiative on data, outcomes and quality – an effort to inform policy makers and service providers on the nature and scope of behavioral health issues.