The Gap Between First Use and Getting Help

The Gap Between First Use and Getting Help

When an individual first uses a drug, the possibility of creating a long-term dependence likely does not occur to them, nor are they likely for some time to admit that they have a problem and require drug treatment. Once they do determine that a substance has begun to have an unhealthy influence on their life, it is important that they are able to access treatment as quickly as possible.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) issues regular reports about various aspects of substance abuse and treatment availability. The data issued by SAMHSA are useful for policymakers as well as those who work in substance abuse treatment and prevention for determining the needs of the population. A recent report from SAMHSA detailed the length of time between an adult’s first time using a substance and when they sought admission for drug treatment.

SAMHSA’s recent report focused on admissions from 2009. In that year there were 1.8 million admissions over the age of 18, with 36.9 percent of those admissions reporting their treatment as their first time seeking help for substance abuse.

The report found that the average age of first use was 18.4 years. The average age at which the individuals sought treatment was 34 years. This indicates an average of 15.6 years of substance use before receiving treatment. Females were associated with a shorter duration of use than males (13.8 years versus 16.5 years).

Duration of use varied among the different primary substance of abuse. Alcohol use represented the longest duration of use with an average of 20.2 years between the first time the substance was tried and beginning of alcohol treatment. For those who use cocaine, heroin, marijuana and stimulants, the duration of use was between 12 and 14 years. The primary drug of use that showed the shortest duration was prescription drugs, with an average of 7.8 years.

The duration of use also varied by race or ethnicity and gender. Among those who reported alcohol as their primary substance of abuse, the average duration between first use and treatment ranged from 22 years for non-Hispanic blacks to 16.4 years for Asians/Pacific Islanders.

The data provided by SAMHSA may help policymakers better plan for drug treatment facilities. It will also help those who attempt to screen populations for substance abuse in determining how to approach education efforts.

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