Reducing Alcohol Outlet Density Can Reduce Violent Crime

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Approximately 2 in 5 violent deaths and 1 in 4 emergency department visits for violence-related injuries are due to excessive alcohol use. Previous research has shown that having a high concentration or density of retail alcohol outlets – places that sell alcohol – in neighborhoods can increase the chances of violent crime, and the Community Preventive Services Task Force recommends regulating alcohol outlet density to reduce excessive drinking and harms related to it, including violence. However, few studies have examined the impact of reducing alcohol outlet density on violent crime, in part because alcohol outlet density has been increasing in many communities. 

In our study published this week in Preventing Chronic Disease, we compared changes at the census block level in the number and concentration of bars, restaurants and other on-premises alcohol retailers where people can go to drink in the Buckhead, an area of Atlanta where on-premises alcohol outlet density declined, with those in the Midtown and Downtown neighborhoods of Atlanta, which also had a high concentration of drinking locations. We then evaluated the impact of these changes on exposure to violent crime from 1997-2002, prior to the change in alcohol outlet density in Buckhead, and 2003-2007, when the reduction in alcohol outlet density in Buckhead took place.

Overall, we found that on-premises alcohol outlet density decreased by about 3% in Buckhead between these two time periods, but increased 12% in both Midtown and Downtown. Furthermore, the decrease in on-premises alcohol outlet density in Buckhead was associated with a two-fold greater reduction in exposure to violent crime than occurred in either the Midtown or Downtown neighborhoods, even after taking into account other differences between these communities (e.g. sex, race, and poverty status).

We believe this is one of the first studies to assess the impact of reducing exposure to alcohol outlets on violent crime at the census block level. This approach allowed us to more accurately measure changes in alcohol outlet density and violent crime, as well as the relationship between the two, than would have been possible if our analysis was based on larger geographic areas, such as ZIP codes or police zones in the city.

Based on reviews of the scientific evidence, in addition to regulating alcohol outlet density, the Community Preventive Services Task Force also recommends increasing alcohol excise taxes, holding alcohol retailers liable for harms resulting from illegal sales (“dram shop” or commercial host liability), and enforcing laws prohibiting sales to minors under the 21 year minimum legal drinking age. A comprehensive approach to reducing excessive drinking that emphasizes evidence-based strategies could have a substantial impact on reducing excessive drinking and the harms related to it, including violent crime.

Additional resources:

CDC’s Alcohol and Public Health Website

The Community Guide: Preventing Excessive Alcohol Consumption

Regulating Alcohol Outlet Density: An Action Guide


By Dr. Robert Brewer, MD, MSPH
Team Lead, Excessive Alcohol Use Prevention Team
Division of Population Health
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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Page last reviewed: May 27, 2015
Page last updated: May 27, 2015