Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

The Developmental Framework

Windows of Opportunity

Age at First Symptom and First Diagnosis for Common Behavioral Health Problems

When addressing risk and protective factors, timing is critical. Half of all behavioral disorders appear during adolescence. While the average age of diagnosis varies by disorder, the first symptoms of most behavioral health disorders typically occur two to four years before diagnosis. In the case of substance abuse disorders, for example, initial symptoms appear around age 14—about four years before these symptoms progress to the point of a diagnosable disorder.

If we can intervene during these windows of opportunity—during the period between the time when symptoms can be first detected and disorders can be diagnosed—we are more likely to prevent the onset of the disorder and produce lasting and long-term impacts. And if we can intervene even sooner, to promote healthy lifestyles, our potential for reducing the toll of behavioral health problems on individuals, communities, and society is even greater.


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