Real-time tracking of neighborhood surroundings and mood in urban drug misusers: application of a new method to study behavior in its geographical context

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2014 Jan 1;134:22-29. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2013.09.007. Epub 2013 Sep 14.


Background: Maladaptive behaviors may be more fully understood and efficiently prevented by ambulatory tools that assess people's ongoing experience in the context of their environment.

Methods: To demonstrate new field-deployable methods for assessing mood and behavior as a function of neighborhood surroundings (geographical momentary assessment; GMA), we collected time-stamped GPS data and ecological momentary assessment (EMA) ratings of mood, stress, and drug craving over 16 weeks at randomly prompted times during the waking hours of opioid-dependent polydrug users receiving methadone maintenance. Locations of EMA entries and participants' travel tracks calculated for the 12 before each EMA entry were mapped. Associations between subjective ratings and objective environmental ratings were evaluated at the whole neighborhood and 12-h track levels.

Results: Participants (N=27) were compliant with GMA data collection; 3711 randomly prompted EMA entries were matched to specific locations. At the neighborhood level, physical disorder was negatively correlated with negative mood, stress, and heroin and cocaine craving (ps<.0001-.0335); drug activity was negatively correlated with stress, heroin and cocaine craving (ps .0009-.0134). Similar relationships were found for the environments around respondents' tracks in the 12h preceding EMA entries.

Conclusions: The results support the feasibility of GMA. The relationships between neighborhood characteristics and participants' reports were counterintuitive and counter-hypothesized, and challenge some assumptions about how ostensibly stressful environments are associated with lived experience and how such environments ultimately impair health. GMA methodology may have applications for development of individual- or neighborhood-level interventions.

Keywords: Activity space; Behavioral geography; Ecological momentary assessment.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Behavior, Addictive / diagnosis
  • Behavior, Addictive / epidemiology*
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Computer Systems / trends
  • Drug Users / psychology
  • Female
  • Geographic Information Systems* / trends
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnosis
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Urban Population* / trends
  • Young Adult