• Article

Studying addicts over time: Methodology and preliminary findings

This preliminary report of findings pertaining to the "natural history" of narcotic addiction was based on a systematic random sample of males identified as narcotic abusers by the Baltimore City Police Department over a twenty year period (1952-71) and thus differs from other studies of addiction in that it represents a community-wide population of narcotic users. The sample was stratified by year of identification as well as by race and consisted of equal numbers of blacks and whites.

Personal interviews with subjects were conducted using a structured questionnaire, and a special staff was used to locate and obtain permission to interview. Of the 349 persons in the sample, 343 were located, with a substantial proportion being out-of-state. Among the 343 located, 57 were dead, two were psychotic, six were not located, and 17 refused to be interviewed. Thus, 267 of the 290 potentially interviewable subjects were actually interviewed, which represents an interview response rate of 92%.

The mean age for the entire interviewed sample at time of first identification was 24.4 years, with the comparable figure for blacks being 1.8 years higher than that for whites. The mean time-interval for police identification of respondents as narcotic users after the beginning of regular use was nearly five years, but the variation surrounding this figure was high. In particular, the figure was higher for blacks than for whites, with no consistent trend over time shown for either race.

The year of first regular narcotic use for the interviewed sample ranged from 1910 to 197 1. Mean age at first regular narcotics use was 20.1 years overall, with very little difference between whites and blacks in this respect.

Approximately one-fourth of those interviewed were currently using narcotics, about one-fifth were in treatment, and the remainder (56.9%) reported themselves as not using narcotic drugs at the time

It is emphasized that this paper represents only a preliminary step in the analysis and presentation of data obtained in a three-hour comprehensive interview. Future papers will examine individual and group trends since first regular use of narcotics with respect to drug taking, living arrangements, work, criminal activity, drug selling, other sources of income, and pattern of daily activities.


Nurco, DN., Bonito, A., Lerner, M., & Balter, MB. (1975). Studying addicts over time: Methodology and preliminary findings. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 2(2), 183-196. https://doi.org/10.3109/00952997509002733