Mail surveys resulted in more reports of substance use than telephone surveys

Timothy J. Beebe, James A. McRae, Patricia A. Harrison, Michael E. Davern, Kathryn B. Quinlan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Objective: To determine to what extent the substance-use information obtained in surveys is affected by method of data collection. Study Design and Setting: Questions on the use of alcohol and drugs were administered to samples of Minnesota adults assigned to one of two conditions to test the effect of mode of administration (mail and telephone); 816 persons completed the survey, roughly one half by mail and one half by telephone. Results: Those interviewed by telephone revealed more heavy use of alcohol, but the mail sample includes disproportionate numbers of respondents from demographic groups that exhibit less use. Controlling for these differences across modes, as well as the differential use of listed telephone numbers and addresses, reduces the effect of mode on one measure of heavy alcohol use to nonsignificance but yields significant effects of mode on others. Specifically, those in the mail condition reported higher levels of illicit drug use in the last year, alcohol use in the last month, and heavy alcohol use in the last 2 weeks. Conclusions: The greater, and arguably more accurate, reporting of substance use, coupled with potential cost savings, suggests that researchers should consider using mail surveys for investigating substance use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)421-424
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Clinical Epidemiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was supported by contract no. 270-97-7034 under the Minnesota State Systems Development Program administered by the Division of State Programs, Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The contents of this report are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of SAMHSA, CSAT, or the Minnesota Department of Human Services. The authors express their gratitude to Stephen Asche, Eunkyung Park, Kelli Johnson, Meg Brown Good, and anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. We thank Dan Mueller and the other staff at Wilder Research Center for working with us to collect the data of the Minnesota Adult Survey.


  • Mail surveys
  • Method of questionnaire administration
  • Mode effects
  • Substance use
  • Telephone surveys


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