Adaptive sampling in research on risk-related behaviors

Steven K. Thompson, Linda M. Collins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article introduces adaptive sampling designs to substance use researchers. Adaptive sampling is particularly useful when the population of interest is rare, unevenly distributed, hidden, or hard to reach. Examples of such populations are injection drug users, individuals at high risk for HIV/AIDS, and young adolescents who are nicotine dependent. In conventional sampling, the sampling design is based entirely on a priori information, and is fixed before the study begins. By contrast, in adaptive sampling, the sampling design adapts based on observations made during the survey; for example, drug users may be asked to refer other drug users to the researcher. In the present article several adaptive sampling designs are discussed. Link-tracing designs such as snowball sampling, random walk methods, and network sampling are described, along with adaptive allocation and adaptive cluster sampling. It is stressed that special estimation procedures taking the sampling design into account are needed when adaptive sampling has been used. These procedures yield estimates that are considerably better than conventional estimates. For rare and clustered populations adaptive designs can give substantial gains in efficiency over conventional designs, and for hidden populations link-tracing and other adaptive procedures may provide the only practical way to obtain a sample large enough for the study objectives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-67
Number of pages11
JournalDrug and alcohol dependence
Issue numberSUPPL.
StatePublished - Nov 1 2002


  • Adaptive sampling
  • Epidemiology
  • Network sampling
  • Random walk
  • Snowball sampling
  • Tobacco

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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