Length of Time from First Use to Adult Substance Abuse Treatment Admission – TEDS Admission Data 2009

To reduce the negative consequences of substance abuse, it is important for individuals who need treatment to receive treatment services as soon as possible. However, the length of time between first use of a substance to treatment entry for abuse of that substance can be substantial.

The length of time between first use and entry into substance abuse treatment differed by primary substance of abuse. Adult first-time alcohol admissions had the longest duration of use with an average of 20.2 years between first use and treatment entry. The duration of use among first-time cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and stimulant admissions ranged from 12 to 14 years. The shortest duration of use was for first-time prescription drug admissions with an average of 7.8 years between first use and treatment entry.

lengty of time from first time admissions chart


The years between first use and treatment admission suggest that there may have been missed opportunities for intervention. Culturally appropriate outreach services that help individuals recognize the need for and potential benefits of treatment may help to ensure that individuals in need of treatment receive services sooner rather than later, thus giving them the best chances for successful recovery.

The shorter duration of use prior to first treatment for prescription drugs than for other substances may indicate a high potential for problematic substance use patterns to develop quickly. Therefore it is critical that physicians and other health professionals be vigilant in looking for signs of misuse of these drugs so that intervention can occur as soon as possible.


Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (September 29, 2011). The TEDS Report: Length of Time from First Use to Adult Treatment Admission. Rockville, MD.

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