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UB study of 16 states confirms, yup, we drank a lot more last year

Wine being poured into a glass
Luca Bruno

Anecdotally, people drank a lot more in the early months of the pandemic last year. Three University at Buffalo professors in varying fields studied what happened in 16 states and confirmed there was more drinking.

The most fascinating part of the study is that there is a lot of data out there on what people drink and where they buy it. That's somewhat clearer because in many places the bar scene had shifted to the living room when bars and restaurants closed.

One of the researchers is UB Geography Assistant Professor Yingie Hu. He did his doctorate in California wine country at UC Santa Barbara.

Hu said the overall increase approached 11% in sales, although beer sales dropped in many places.

"We actually see some large increases, for example 20-40% increases in states like Kansas, Missouri, Alaska," Hu said, "whereas in some other states, the sales of spirits in March actually largely decreased, for example in the State of Wisconsin."

These findings are from big data. The research is built around monthly alcohol sales data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and mobility data from 45 million smartphones showing when those phones visited places where alcohol is sold. The data was made anonymous.

Hu said researchers worried about the health and social problems of heavy drinking.

"This continuous increase in alcohol sales can be worrisome and can be a sign of excessive alcohol use," Hu said, "and we know that excessive alcohol use can lead to various types of health and social problems."

He conducted the research with Research Assistant Professor of Medicine Brian Quigley and Assistant Mathematics Professor Dane Taylor.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.