Establishing the Relative Accuracy of Using City Directories as Proxies to Define and Reconstruct Historical Alcohol Environments

Richard Casey Sadler, Pamela Trangenstein, Alan Harris, Zachary Buchalski, Thomas Walter Wojciechowski, C. Debra Furr-Holden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Research on alcohol environments has established that poorer and minoritized communities are frequently overburdened by off-premise outlets (e.g., liquor stores). These outlets have more associated harms, including increased alcohol consumption and crime rates. Little, if any, research has shown how these socio-spatial disparities in exposure have grown or shifted over time, and no studies have established a method for re-creating historical alcohol environments. Method: In this article, we establish a method for defining outlets that sell alcohol (on-and off-premise) by comparing state databases to city directories for 2012 and 2016, and then using historical directories to assign probability of selling alcohol to outlets dating back to 1950. Using this metric, we then use geographic information systems to model shifts in alcohol availability by race and socioeconomic status in 10-year in- tervals from 1950 to 2010. Results: Our results suggest that in our study city of Flint, MI, disparities in the alcohol environment have narrowed since 1950. Although liquor stores are still more likely to be located in poorer and more heavily African American neighborhoods, the pattern has become insignificant over time. Furthermore, the number of alcohol outlets per capita has declined. Thus, although the city remains more overburdened with alcohol outlets than its suburbs, the disparity has shrunk. Conclusions: This work has implications for those working in alcohol prevention and policy, as well as in urban planning. Practitioners and researchers can use this method to model alcohol availability over time in their own communities, which helps better inform the discussion on disparities experienced in poor and minoritized neighborhoods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)158-170
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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