Limiting the number of alcohol-serving establishments within a certain area contributes to the prevention of “hot zones” of problem-drinking that correlate with higher incidence of impaired driving. As with other policies, limiting alcohol outlet density strengthens and is strengthened by the implementation of other interventions, specifically those that reduce problem drinking and overserving.
In addition to drawing alcohol consumption into a single area and the related traffic implications, outlet density increases challenges in monitoring intoxicated consumers and enforcing liquor laws, as well as creating competition and driving down beverage prices to draw in patrons. Economic factors also create an incentive for alcohol outlets to cluster in areas with lower taxes, regulation, and enforcement, posing a particular challenge for problem drinking in lower-income area.
The below resource from the CDC on Measuring Alcohol Outlet Density contains helpful guidance on approaches for conceptualizing density. Counting the number or rate of outlets in a district or within a certain distance of a neighborhood is termed container-based measurement and is a useful strategy due to its relative simplicity for data collection, analysis, and communication. A distance-based measure calculates the distance of outlets from a point of interest or from the center of a geographic area; this approach brings the advantage of including outlets just outside the area of interest, however can be more challenging to calculate, especially if based on travel time, and don’t factor in the size of the population as a container-based measure would. Finally, spatial access measures, though considerably more sophisticated calculations which can be challenging to communicate, can consider the distance between a reference point and several alcohol outlets and can additionally be weighted for the size of the population exposed to the alcohol outlet density.
A measure of outlet density is a valuable tool that offers means for comparing localities, tracking correlations with alcohol-attributable crimes and public health challenges, and making a persuasive argument for interventions with community stakeholders. Measurement strategies should take into consideration how the metric will be used, such as for planning community development, influencing policies and regulations, or to inform decision-making on other problem-drinking and impaired driving interventions, such as hours of sale.
This provides a description of relevant regulation with examples of how it works in several states. It reinforces the science.
This 32-page guide provide three different ways to measure outlet density and the ways by which it can be framed to inform policy and create strategies.
- CADCA Published Strategizer 55: Regulating Alcohol Outlet Density to assist coalitions, which collects case studies and policy guidance for community coalitions
- Review the evidence from the Community Preventive Services Task Force