Validity and reliability of self-reported drinking behavior: dealing with the problem of response bias

J Stud Alcohol. 1993 May;54(3):334-44. doi: 10.15288/jsa.1993.54.334.


This work assesses the validity and reliability of self-reported survey data on drinking behavior. There is evidence to suggest that data are adversely affected by bias from underreporting. This bias affects the validity of measures of consumption of alcohol and can have deleterious effects on the results of some forms of statistical estimation. Data for this study were collected at an isolated military base. The remoteness of this site and the fact that it is a military station made it possible to estimate the actual level of consumption of alcohol for the population by assessing apparent consumption through officially recorded sales of alcohol. The results of eight measures of consumption of alcohol were compared with apparent consumption, as established by documented sales, and the validity and reliability of the various measures were determined using the classical correlational approach. The validity and reliability of the data generated by the self-report survey were also analyzed using LISREL, the measurement model in particular. The results indicate that various instruments used to assess the consumption of alcohol produce very different outcomes in terms of their validity and reliability, some questions being considerably more valid and reliable than others. Two of the more salient characteristics of questions that affect validity and reliability were isolated, namely a question's ability to aid recall and its ability to mitigate the effects of persons providing socially desirable responses. The LISREL results show that these are two underlying factors for the measurement of the consumption of alcohol. It is concluded that questions that produce valid and reliable responses do so for identifiable reasons, and measurement instruments can be improved by incorporating particular features.

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology*
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Arctic Regions / epidemiology
  • Bias
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Mental Recall
  • Military Personnel / psychology
  • Military Personnel / statistics & numerical data*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Self Disclosure*
  • Social Desirability
  • Social Isolation