What does it take to retain substance-abusing adolescents in research protocols? Delineation of effort required, strategies undertaken, costs incurred, and 6-month post-treatment differences by retention difficulty

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2003 Jan 24;69(1):73-85. doi: 10.1016/s0376-8716(02)00252-1.


Research retention rates vary widely due to practical difficulties that can be exacerbated when participants are minors. This article describes: (1) the range of effort required and type of follow-up strategies used to complete face-to-face follow-up interviews with substance-abusing adolescent research participants; (2) common locations of follow-up interviews; and (3) characteristics of difficult- versus easy-to-retain adolescent participants. Diverse contact strategies and numerous contact attempts were needed to obtain a 94% 1-month and 92% 6-month retention rate among substance-abusing adolescent research participants. About half of the youth did not respond to basic telephone tracking and required enhanced tracking efforts. Approximately 40% of the youth required 6 or more contacts prior to interview completion. The majority of follow-up interviews (60%) were conducted in community settings such as fast food restaurants, constituting the adolescent's preferred interview location. Telephone interviews were infrequent since adolescents wanted privacy and were concerned that a household member would listen to their answers. Those youth proving difficult-to-retain were significantly more likely to report serious problem behavior and poorer outcomes 6-months post-treatment within the alcohol/drug, juvenile justice, family, and educational domains. It was estimated that an additional $85 per participant per follow-up wave (over and above project budgets) was needed to adequately track, locate and interview an adolescent research participant. This expenditure appears reasonable to ensure a reliable/valid data set. Assessing the cost/benefit of different methods used in preventing attrition, identifying the minimum standards that avoid response bias and examining the impact of interviewer/participant alliances on data reliability/validity is discussed.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Clinical Protocols*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic / methods
  • Male
  • Patient Compliance / psychology
  • Patient Compliance / statistics & numerical data*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / economics*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy*