Qualitative research: contributions to the study of drug use, drug abuse, and drug use(r)-related interventions

Subst Use Misuse. 2004;39(10-12):1907-69. doi: 10.1081/ja-200033233.


This article describes how qualitative social science research has and can contribute to the emerging field of drug and alcohol studies. An eight-stage model of formative-reformative research is presented as a heuristic to outline the different ways in which qualitative research may be used to better understand micro and macro dimensions of drug use and distribution; more effectively design, monitor and evaluate drug use(r)-related interventions; and address the politics of drug/drug program representation. Tobacco is used as an exemplar to introduce the reader to the range of research issues that a qualitative researcher may focus upon during the initial stage of formative research. Ethnographic research on alcohol use among Native Americans is highlighted to illustrate the importance of closely examining ethnicity as well as class when investigating patterns of drug use. To familiarize the reader with qualitative research, we describe the range of methods commonly employed and the ways in which qualitative research may complement as well as contribute to quantitative research. In describing the later stages of the formative-reformative process, we consider both the use of qualitative research in the evaluation and critical assessment of drug use(r)-intervention programs, and the role of qualitative research in critically assessing the politics of prevention programs. Finally, we discuss the challenges faced by qualitative researchers when engaging in transdisciplinary research.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Politics
  • Smoking / ethnology
  • Smoking / psychology
  • Social Conditions*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*