Policy Factsheet

Alcohol Outlet Density

Reasons for Policy

  • Alcohol is ranked 3rd out of 26 risk factors that contribute to disease, disability, or mortality1
  • Approximately 79,000 deaths per year in the United States are due to binge drinking or heavy daily drinking2
  • In 2009, approximately 29% of adult drinkers in the U.S. reported binge drinking in the last 30 days3
  • In 2009, 67% of high school students who drank reported binge drinking in the last 30 days2

Community Groups

  • Local Businesses
  • Local Department That Issues Liquor Licenses (different Depending On State)
  • Local Government
  • Local Zoning Boards

Policy Components

  • Restrict the number of alcohol licenses allowed in a particular area
  • Restrict the types of locations that are allowed to sell alcohol (e.g. grocery stores)

Desired Outcomes

  • Lower rates of problem drinking behaviors
  • Lower rates of violence due to drinking
  • Lower rates of injuries due to drinking
  • Lower rates of alcohol consumption

Level of Evidence Available to Evaluate Effectiveness of Policy

For all policies we describe on this website, we have applied the Standards of Evidence as defined by Flay et al. (2005) in the Standards of Evidence document published by Prevention Science.

The effectiveness level of this policy is 1: Evidence-Based Policies Meeting Criteria for Effectiveness.

The levels of effectiveness as noted are:

  1. meets criteria for policy effectiveness (consistent, positive outcomes from at least two high-quality experimental or quasi-experimental trials using a comparison group or interrupted time series design);
  2. consistent evidence available linking policy with positive outcomes from high-quality observational studies only;
  3. insufficient evidence available for policy or policy components.

Achievable Results

Reducing on- and off-premise alcohol outlet density can achieve:

  • Large, significant reductions in alcohol consumption (mean elasticity: 0.27)2
  • Large. significant reductions in interpersonal violence (mean elasticity: 0.32)2

There is also consistent evidence from observational studies that reducing on- and off-premise alcohol outlet density can achieve:

  • Large reductions in unintentional injury (mean elasticity: 0.23)2
  • Small reductions in crime (mean elasticity: 0.04)2

Community Examples

  • Madison, Wisconsin created an Alcohol License Review Committee to lower the amount of retail alcohol outlets within the city. Source 1. Source 2
  • The Oakland City Attorney (California) created a position to enforce the problems with areas that are highly concentrated with liquor outlets. Source 1. Source 2.

Links to Policy Examples

  • Madison, WI municipal code Chapter 38, Section 05: See attached pdf file (page 29, section (o))
  • Oakland, CA City CodeTitle 17, Chapter 156 improves operating standards of non-conforming alcohol outlets and implements an enforcement program to monitor the operators: see attached pdf

Be sure to check with your state, county, and municipal governments regarding potential existing laws that may impede any new policy development.


  1. Popova S, Giesbrecht N, Bekmuradov D, & Patra J (2009). Hours and days of sale and density of alcohol outlets: Impacts on alcohol consumption and damage: A systematic review. Alcohol & Alcoholism, 44(5), 500-516.  

  2. Campbell CA, et al. (2009). The effectiveness of limiting alcohol outlet density as a means of reducing excessive alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harms. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 37(6). 556-569.  

  3. Flay, BR, Biglan, A, Boruch, RF, Ganzalez Castro, F, Gottfredson, D, Kellam, S, Moscicki, EK, Schinke, S, Valentine, JC, & Ji, P (2005). Standards of evidence: Criteria for efficacy, effectiveness and dissemination. Prevention Science, 6(3), 151-175.