Aims Rather than using the traditional, costly method of personal interviews in a general population sample, substance-use prevalence rates can be derived more conveniently from data collected among members of an online access panel. To examine the utility of this method, we compared the outcomes of an online survey with those obtained with the computer-assisted personal interviews (CAPI) method.
Design Data were gathered from a large sample of online panellists and in a two-stage stratified sample of the Dutch population using the CAPI method.
Setting The Netherlands.
Participants The online sample comprised 57 125 Dutch online panellists (15–64 years) of Survey Sampling International LLC (SSI), and the CAPI cohort 7204 respondents (15–64 years).
Measurements All participants answered identical questions about their use of alcohol, cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine and performance-enhancing drugs. The CAPI respondents were asked additionally about internet access and online panel membership. Both data sets were weighted statistically according to the distribution of demographic characteristics of the general Dutch population.
Findings Response rates were 35.5% (n = 20 282) for the online panel cohort and 62.7% (n = 4516) for the CAPI cohort. The data showed almost consistently lower substance-use prevalence rates for the CAPI respondents. Although the observed differences could be due to bias in both data sets, coverage and non-response bias were higher in the online panel survey.
Conclusions Despite its economic advantage, the online panel survey showed stronger non-response and coverage bias than the CAPI survey, leading to less reliable estimates of substance use in the general population.