Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



Markowski KL, Smith JA, Gauthier GR & Harcey SR Practical problems and positive experiences with ecological momentary assessment: reflections from people who use drugs, The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. 2021 47(3):311-318,

DOI: 10.1080/00952990.2021.1910700


Copyright © 2021 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. Used by permission.


Background: Ecological momentary assessment (EMA) is an increasingly popular and feasible form of data collection, but it can be intensive and intrusive. Especially for at-risk, vulnerable populations like people who use drugs (PWUD), poor experiences with EMA may exacerbate existing chronic struggles while decreasing response rates. However, little research queries participants’ experiences with EMA studies.

Objectives: We explore participants’ positive and negative experiences with EMA, identifying what they liked about the study, the problems they experienced, and suggested solutions to these problems.

Methods: Results come from semi-structured interviews from 26 PWUD (6 women; 20 men) in Nebraska who participated in a two-week EMA pilot study on drug use with a study-provided smartphone. Participant responses were recorded by interviewers into open-text fields in Qualtrics. Data were analyzed with an iterative open coding procedure.

Results: We found that many participants enjoyed the study and seamlessly incorporated the phone into their daily lives. There were a number of negative study aspects identified, however, as many participants experienced functional issues (e.g., running out of high-speed data, trouble keeping the phone charged, not able to answer questions within the two-hour timeframe) that detracted from their experience, especially if they were homeless.

Conclusion: Our findings provide methodological considerations for studies with EMA components among at-risk, vulnerable populations, like PWUD. These suggestions are targeted toward the continued ethical collection of high-quality data in clinical and non-clinical settings.