Social epidemiology and complex system dynamic modelling as applied to health behaviour and drug use research

Int J Drug Policy. 2009 May;20(3):209-16. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2008.08.005. Epub 2008 Oct 18.


A social epidemiologic perspective considers factors at multiple levels of influence (e.g., social networks, neighbourhoods, states) that may individually or jointly affect health and health behaviour. This provides a useful lens through which to understand the production of health behaviours in general, and drug use in particular. However, the analytic models that are commonly applied in population health sciences limit the inference we are able to draw about the determination of health behaviour by factors, likely interrelated, across levels of influence. Complex system dynamic modelling techniques may be useful in enabling the adoption of a social epidemiologic approach in health behaviour and drug use research. We provide an example of a model that aims to incorporate factors at multiple levels of influence in understanding drug dependence. We conclude with suggestions about future directions in the field and how such models may serve as virtual laboratories for policy experiments aimed at improving health behaviour.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Models, Statistical
  • Regression Analysis*
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Environment
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*