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UB students to study pandemic’s impact on alcohol abuse

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Alcohol abuse has been an increasing problem for Americans for two decades, and for some, COVID-19 made an existing problem worse. Now, new federal dollars will allow the University at Buffalo to train graduate students as alcohol researchers.

UB's Clinical and Research Institute on Addictions has received a $1.7 million grant from the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism to train students as alcohol researchers. The institute, and UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions, will have at least four grad students learning to research alcohol and alcoholism.

The NIAAA’s support has helped UB trained postdoctoral fellows for careers in alcohol research since 2000, but this new funding will expand that opportunity to graduate students pursuing their doctorates at UB.

Institute Director Ken Leonard said students’ research will have a particular focus on drinking during the pandemic. The long lockdown, Leonard said, led to excessive drinking in surprising groups.

“We've seen increased drinking among older populations, people who are 65 and older, increased drinking among women,” he said.

However, he added it appears those who increased their drinking during the pandemic were at more risk for alcohol problems, whereas those who were less at risk decreased their drinking.

Leonard said the grad students will consult with institute staff on the research leading to their doctoral thesis, which could expand connections to the effect of excessive drinking on the body or on the mind, perhaps working with the nearby Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Because these are grad students, they can pursue the alcohol topic through other branches of UB, like the physical toll which can occur in the human body from drinking too much.

Leonard also said they can build a career during their research and possibly their doctoral thesis.

“One of the real positive effects of being able to get graduate students and have them get a couple publications in the alcohol field and then do their dissertation in the alcohol field and it helps define them as an alcohol researcher and their next position is going to see them as an alcohol researcher,” he said.