Delay to first treatment contact for alcohol use disorder

February 2015
Chapman, C., Slade, T., Hunt, C., & Teesson, M. (2015). Delay to first treatment contact for alcohol use disorder. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 147, 116-121. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2014.11.029

The authors analysed data from the 2007 Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing to examine the factors associated with delay between onset of alcohol use disorders and first treatment contact in Australia. A total of 8,841 records were examined. They asked people who met criteria for an alcohol use disorder how old they were when they first experienced alcohol related problems and – if they had made contact with a health professional for these problems - how old they were the first time they did so. The analysis found that the average time to get treatment for alcohol use disorders in Australia was 18 years.

Patients who met the criteria for dependence were significantly more likely to seek treatment than those who met the criteria for abuse, with 78 per cent of alcohol dependent patients seeking treatment over their lifetime compared with only 27 per cent of those who met the criteria for abuse. Alcohol dependent patients sought treatment more quickly than those with abuse. But the time to treatment was still significantly delayed with alcohol dependent patients waiting on average 14 years to seek treatment. Those with earlier onset of symptoms and from older cohorts reported longer delay and were less likely to ever seek treatment compared to those with later onset or from more recent cohorts. Those with comorbid anxiety but not mood disorder, or who reported alcohol-related role disruption or recurrent interpersonal problems were more likely to ever seek treatment and reported shorter delay compared to those who did not report these symptoms. Younger generations of Australians tended to access care sooner after the onset of problems.