Journal of Quantitative Criminology

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 45-68

First online:

On Correcting Biases in Self-Reports of Age at First Substance Use with Repeated Cross-Section Analysis

  • Andrew GolubAffiliated withNational Development and Research Associates, Inc.
  • , Bruce D. JohnsonAffiliated withNational Development and Research Associates, Inc.
  • , Eric LabouvieAffiliated withRutgers Center of Alcohol Studies, Rutgers University

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Household survey data on age at first use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana,and hard drugs can be biased due to sample selection and inaccuraterecall. One potential concern is attrition, whereby individuals who getinvolved with substance use at an early age become increasingly less likelyto be surveyed in successive years. A comparison of data from the NationalHousehold Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) with data from a longitudinal studysuggested that attrition might have caused substantially less bias thandid “forward telescoping,” the inflating of age at first useover time. The evidence of forward telescoping was particularly pronouncedwith respect to age at first use of alcohol. This paper presents a procedurefor correcting the distribution of age at first use for forward telescoping(but not attrition) by viewing a portion of the NHSDA data collected insuccessive years as constituting a cohort study. Results are presented fromapplying this procedure with NHSDA data collected from 1982 to 1995 forrespondents born 1968–1973. The findings suggest that preventionprograms need to be introduced at an earlier age than would be indicatedby “uncorrected” retrospective data. Other implications are alsohighlighted.

drug use self-report validity forward telescoping attrition