Treatment Utilization Among Adolescent Substance Users: Findings from the 2002 to 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health




Adolescent substance users face serious health and social consequences and benefit from early diagnosis and treatment. The objectives of this study were to observe trends in treatment utilization; examine correlates of treatment utilization and treatment types/settings among adolescent substance users with and without substance use disorder (SUD); and assess gender differences.


National Survey on Drug Use and Health data were pooled across 2002 to 2013, with a combined sample of 79,885 past-year substance users ages 12 to 17 (17,510 with SUD and 62,375 without SUD). Treatment was defined as receiving treatment or counseling for use of alcohol or any drug, not counting cigarettes. Trends were assessed by joinpoint linear regression, and multivariable logistic regression assessed odds ratios of treatment utilization.


Percentages of past-year treatment use did not change in 2002 to 2013. Treatment utilization was more prevalent among adolescents with SUD than without (11.4% vs. 1.4%) and among males than females. Among adolescents with and without SUD, criminal justice involvement and perceiving a need for treatment increased adolescent treatment utilization, while SUDs other than alcohol abuse, older age, and talking to parents increased treatment use among adolescents with SUD, and polysubstance use and male gender increased treatment among those without SUD. Treatment gaps persisted among non-Hispanic Blacks for both groups with and without SUD, male Hispanics with SUD, female non-Hispanic Asians without SUD, and private insurance coverages. Gender differences were observed in SUD, race/ethnicity, and insurance coverage. Most adolescents received treatment for both alcohol and drug use, and self-help group and outpatient rehabilitation facility were the most used treatment settings.


Treatment utilization among adolescents with past-year substance use remained low and unimproved in 2002 to 2013. Treatment gaps among minority populations, insurance coverage, and in educating adolescents on seeking relevant treatment must be addressed. Using screening processes such as Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment, health professionals can help prevent lifelong SUD by recognizing and addressing substance misuse early.