Development of substance abuse problems among drug-involved offenders: Evidence for the telescoping effect

Document Type


Publication Date



Drugs, Alcohol, Women, Drug court, Telescoping


Purpose: The present study was designed to evaluate gender differences in the development of substance abuse disorders among drug-involved offenders and to determine whether women in this population exhibit a telescoping effect (i.e., acceleration in the progression from substance use to substance abuse), which has been observed in other settings. Method: Participants consisted of 160 polysubstance-abusing individuals (118 men, 42 women) who were admitted to two Florida drug court programs. Data were obtained from the Addiction Severity Index, intake interviews, and archival court records. Results: Female and male offenders differed significantly in the developmental trajectory of their addiction. Women offenders initiated alcohol and marijuana use significantly later in life than their male cohorts but began using cocaine earlier in the course of their addiction. Women also reported more problems related to cocaine use and significantly more prior treatment episodes. Women were found to have a shorter latency from first use of cocaine to cocaine abuse. Findings are consistent with those of previous studies examining gender differences among individuals referred for substance abuse treatment. Future directions for research and implications for treatment planning are discussed.