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

David H. Epstein, Matthew Tyburski, Ian M. Craig, Karran A. Phillips, Michelle L. Jobes, Massoud Vahabzadeh, Mustapha Mezghanni, Jia Ling Lin, C. Debra M. Furr-Holden, Kenzie L. Preston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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 12. h 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)22-29
Number of pages8
JournalDrug and alcohol dependence
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014


  • Activity space
  • Behavioral geography
  • Ecological momentary assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


Dive into the research topics of 'Real-time tracking of neighborhood surroundings and mood in urban drug misusers: Application of a new method to study behavior in its geographical context'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this