Reducing the density of alcohol retail outlets is an evidence-based strategy to reduce excessive alcohol consumption and related harms. Alcohol outlet density refers to the number of retail alcohol outlets (e.g., bars or liquor stores) per geographic area or population. Reducing the density of alcohol outlets both decreases the availability of alcohol and lessens opportunities for drinkers to interact with one another. This in turn reduces excessive alcohol consumption and related harms, including violence and public nuisance activities.1
The density of alcohol outlets can be regulated at the state level, or by localities through the tools of licensing and/or zoning. Licensing refers to the ability of local governments to require alcohol retailers to obtain licenses to sell alcohol, and provides the government with a means by which to regulate the number and location of such retailers.2 Zoning refers to local governments’ ability to restrict or approve the use of land for specific purposes, and is another tool by which density can be limited. States may limit local authority to regulate outlet density by allowing localities to use both, only one, or none of these tools. This is called state preemption.3
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Prevention Status Reports (PSRs) provide information on local authority to regulate alcohol outlet density across the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The following questions and answers are intended to assist readers in understanding and utilizing the information provided by the 2013 PSRs on Alcohol-Related Harms; alcohol outlet density was not included in the 2015 PSRs.