Friday, September 10, 2004

survey respondents: aren't they the dickens?

I'm looking at the alcohol use questions on the WLS*. A question asked in 1992 and 2004 is whether respondents have ever gone to anyone for help about their drinking. A little more than 3% of respondents said "yes" to this question in 1992. But here's the thing that makes survey research so fun: of these people who said "yes" to the question in 1992, almost a third (31%) say "no" in 2004. In other words, almost a third of the people who say they have sometime sought help for their drinking in 1992 deny that they have ever done so in 2004.

One thing I wondered is if these new-deniers are more likely to have relapsed since 2004 and so are drinking more than the people who were consistent in saying they had sought help in 1992 and 2004. Sure enough, the new-deniers are more likely to be drinking and, among those who are drinking, are drinking more. But wait, they were already drinking more in 1992, by almost exactly the same amount. So there goes that idea.

And then all this raises the puzzle of how you should think about people who said "no" they had never sought help for their drinking in 1992, but say "yes" now in 2004. The logically consistent conclusion, of course, is that these are people who got help in the last 12 years. Some of them probably are. But some are probably people who will, apparently, tell you sometimes in surveys that they have sought help for their drinking in the past, and on other occasions will deny this. If the number of no-then-yeses was much greater than the yes-than-nos, you could draw the happy conclusion perhaps that MOST of the no-then-yeses are people who have recently sought help. Alas, as things stand now, the number of no-then-yeses is actually fewer than the number of yes-then-nos, which seems almost to border on the absurd and is the kind of thing that causes the conscientious survey data analyst to bang his head on his desk.

* [W]isconsin [L]ongitudinal [S]tudy, a survey that has followed a 1/3 sample of all 1957 Wisconsin high school graduates.


Anonymous said...

Not that this will resolve the yes/no controversy, but I wonder if having someone bring beer over for you when you are out could constitute having 'gone to anyone for help with their drinking'?

Goesh said...

Great, now I have to remember when I was last seriously soused. The problem I think is that boozers and alcoholics got caught up in this survey. There is a difference. Boozers I would suggest will slowly accumulate and correlate their bad memories and reach a point of departure from their normative patterns of conduct(drinking). ' I've been hitting the sauce pretty heavily for 10-12 years now, the boss and my wife are grumbling, maybe I better get some help and cut back' - that sort of thing. Alcoholics on the other hand make abrupt normative departures due to a specific precipitating event, such as puking on a friend's new carpet in front of his children. They 'bottom out'.

Maybe the dynamics of relapse are at play and are the variable that becomes the culprit in this survey. What what was a precipitating event of departure for a alcoholic 10 years ago, no longer is from a relapse perspective. Setting a friends house on fire and propositioning his wife becomes the precipitating departure event. The previous incident becomes trivial and help wasn't needed in retrospect. Obviously help wasn't needed back then, because it if it was, it would have worked and I wouldn't need it now, so no, I didn't get any help before. Convoluted for sure, but such is the nature of Alkies.
But, what the hell do I know? With a couple of stiff belts of top-shelf bourbon you get a new theory.