Alcohol Consumption and Density of Liquor Stores and other Retail Sales Outlets

It’s often said that alcohol consumption tends to be higher in areas with a high concentration of liquor stores and other alcoholic beverage sales outlets. This observation is typically followed by a call for reductions in the density of such outlets as a way to reduce alcohol consumption.

However, the assumption that alcohol outlets cause high consumption appears to be wrong. A high concentration of grocery stores doesn’t cause people to eat more or to become obese. We can’t fight obesity by reducing the number of grocery stores.

Denver and Washington, DC, have about the same population size. But DC has three times as many police officers and eight times as many murders. Is the high concentration of police in DC causing the high murder rate? The distinguished economist Dr. Steven Levitt relates the folktale of the czar who discovered that the most disease-ridden province in the country had the highest concentration of physicians. To reduce the high disease rate the czar had all the doctors in that province killed.

Alcohol activists would have us believe that the alcohol sales outlets are causing the drinking rate and would have us follow the lead of the misguided czar. Fortunately, there would be no executions, but they would have us reduce the number of sales outlets. That’s just as illogical.

Reducing the number of alcohol sales outlets is a “feel good” approach doomed to failure.


  • Levitt, Steven D. and Dubner, Stephen J. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. NY: William Morrow, 2005.
  • Readings

  • Huff, D. How to Lie with Statistics. NY: Norton, 1993.
  • Milloy, S. J. Science without Sense: The Risky Business of Public Health Research. Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 1995.
  • Milloy, S. J. Junk Science Judo. Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 2001.