Follow-up study of people who misuse alcohol: reflections on methodology
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Follow-up study of people who misuse alcohol: reflections on methodology

Jan Gill Associate professor, Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh
Heather Black Research fellow, Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh
Fiona O’May Research fellow, Queen Margaret University Edinburgh, Edinburgh
Cheryl Rees Research assistant, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh

Background Considerable challenges exist for researchers attempting to monitor longitudinally the impact of any intervention on heavy drinkers, therefore they are often excluded from surveys. A particular challenge is the loss of validity through attrition.

Aim To describe issues encountered when recruiting and re-contacting difficult to reach heavy drinkers participating in a longitudinal study; and propose strategies to inform the design of future studies to minimise the effects of confounding factors.

Discussion Baseline recruitment exceeded targets, but attrition at first follow-up interview was considerable. Baseline alcohol consumption was not predictive of loss to follow-up. A variety of factors affected attrition including abstinence, severe intoxication at interview, deaths, selling of telephone, change of address and incarceration.

Conclusion Longitudinal studies that use personal telephones or address details in following up heavy drinkers face considerable challenges to minimise attrition. An important mitigating factor is the use of flexible and experienced interviewers.

Implications for practice The anticipated and reactive strategies documented in this paper provide important lessons for costing, designing and collecting data in future studies.

Nurse Researcher. 24, 2, 10-17. doi: 10.7748/nr.2016.e1414


Peer review

This article has been subject to external double-blind peer review and checked for plagiarism using automated software

Conflict of interest

None declared

Received: 03 July 2015

Accepted: 27 January 2016

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