Sociology and Criminal Justice

Document Type


Publication Date



To better understand patterns of drug use trajectories over time, it is essential to have standard measures of change. Our goal here is to introduce measures we developed to quantify change in drug use behaviors. A secondary goal is to provide effective visualizations of these trajectories for applied use. We analyzed data from a sample of 92 older drug users (ages 45 to 65) to identify transition patterns in drug use trajectories across the life course. Data were collected for every year since birth using a mixed methods design. The community-drawn sample of active and former users were 40% female, 50% African American, and 60% reporting some college or greater. Their life histories provided retrospective longitudinal data on the diversity of paths taken throughout the life course and changes in drug use patterns that occurred over time. Bayesian analysis was used to model drug trajectories displayed by innovative computer graphics. The mathematical techniques and visualizations presented here provide the foundation for future models using Bayesian analysis. In this paper we introduce the concepts of transition counts, transition rates and relapse/remission rates, and we describe how these measures can help us better understand drug use trajectories. Depicted through these visual tools, measurements of discontinuous patterns provide a succinct view of individual drug use trajectories. The measures we use on drug use data will be further developed to incorporate contextual influences on the drug trajectory and build predictive models that inform rehabilitation efforts for drug users. Although the measures developed here were conceived to better examine drug use trajectories, the applications of these measures can be used with other longitudinal datasets.

Journal Title

Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation

Journal ISSN






First Page


Last Page


Digital Object Identifier (DOI)