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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Brown: Examining the Reliability of Alcohol/Drug Use and HIV-Risk Behaviors Using Timeline Follow-Back

Research on the course of substance use disorders (SUDs) faces challenges in assessing behavior over lengthy time periods. Calendar-based methods, like the Timeline Follow-Back (TLFB), may overcome these challenges. This study, by assistant professor of behavioral and social sciences, Dr. Tyler Wray, assessed the reliability of self-reported weekly alcohol use, drug use and HIV-risk behaviors over the past 90 days using an interview TLFB.

[Photo: Dr. Tyler Wray]

The Timeline Follow-Back was used to assess participants’ weekly alcohol use, drug use and engagement in HIV-risk behaviors over the past 90 days.  Alcohol use was assessed as the number of drinking days and ‘‘heavy drinking’’ days over a given week. Participants were also asked to indicate their use of any marijuana, cocaine, heroin, (other) opiates, sedatives and/or ‘‘other’’ drugs on a given week. Finally, HIV-risk behaviors were assessed by first providing detailed definitions of ‘‘sexual activity’’, ‘‘partner types’’ and ‘‘HIV status’’ for participants. Then, interviewers inquired about the total number of sex partners they had over the 90-day period, asking participants to subset these by those with known HIV-negative, HIV-positive and unknown serostatuses. Participants were then asked the total number of sex partners they had for each week during the 90-day recall period. Finally, participants were asked to indicate the frequency with which they used condoms and engaged in sex under the influence for each week.

In general, reliabilities for alcohol and drug use ratings ranged from good to excellent and were comparable or higher when compared to those reported in past studies using similar follow-up windows.  These results suggest that assessment of drug and alcohol use in the past 90 days using the TLFB can be reliably accomplished. This study is one of only a few to examine the reliability of HIV-related risk behavior using the TLFB. Like drug use ratings, reliabilities for HIV-risk behaviors were also generally good to excellent, again lending further support to past findings assessing these behaviors over similar recall periods. Findings extend support for the use of TLFB to produce reliable assessments of many drugs and HIV-risk behaviors across longitudinal intervals.

The study was published Journal of Substance Use, Volume 21, Issue 3.

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