Alcohol outlet density restrictions

Local governments can invest in this strategy using State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

  • This strategy can help prevent violence. The U.S. Department of Treasury has indicated that strategies that help achieve this outcome are eligible for the use of Fiscal Recovery Funds.
  • Investments in this strategy are SLFRF-eligible as long as they are made in qualified census tracts or are designed to assist populations or communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Program overview

  • Reducing physical access to alcohol: Alcohol outlet density refers to the number of alcohol outlets (e.g., bars, liquor stores) per population or geographic area. Local governments may restrict the number and/or location of outlets to reduce excessive drinking and other associated harms.

  • Regulating alcohol outlets: Typically, local governments regulate the density of alcohol outlets through licensing restrictions and zoning laws. Licensing restrictions allows a jurisdiction to limit the number of permits issued to alcohol outlets within its boundaries or within a geographic area of focus (e.g., a neighborhood with a high concentration of outlets). Zoning laws may also be used to limit the number and location of plots allowing for alcohol sales.

  • Considering the placement of outlets: In addition to limiting the density of alcohol outlets, a jurisdiction may use its regulatory powers to restrict the placement of alcohol outlets near sensitive land uses (e.g., schools, playgrounds). As a high concentration of outlets is associated with increased incidence of alcohol-related problems, jurisdictions may also create regulations to prevent clustering of outlets in particular neighborhoods.

Evidence and impacts


Ranked as having the highest level of evidence by County Health Rankings and Roadmaps

Multiple studies with rigorous designs demonstrate that alcohol outlet density restrictions are a well-established strategy for reducing excessive drinking and crime.

Best practices in implementation

  • Measure outlet density systematically: To measure alcohol outlet density, jurisdictions must obtain data about licensed alcohol outlets, categorize outlets by type, select the types of outlets to be included in the analysis, geocode outlets in the measurement area, and select an approach to calculate density. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer a guide to aid jurisdictions in navigating the steps to measure alcohol outlet density.

  • Identify an appropriate measurement methodology: Alcohol outlet density is typically measured using a container-based, distance-based, or spatial access-based approach. Each approach has different tradeoffs that should be considered when selecting a methodology. For instance, the spatial access-based approach allows jurisdictions to assess the degree to which outlets are clustered, but can be more challenging to calculate and explain to a general audience.

  • Promote and enforce responsible retail practices: Density restrictions may be paired with other evidence-based practices for reducing excessive alcohol use, such as limiting the days or hours of alcohol sales, increasing alcohol taxes, or enforcing the minimum legal purchase age. Jurisdictions may also use nuisance ordinances to regulate alcohol retailers that exhibit poor business practices (e.g., lack of exterior lighting, sales to minors).