The impact of spatial and temporal availability of alcohol on its consumption and related harms: a critical review in the context of UK licensing policies

Drug Alcohol Rev. 2014 Sep;33(5):515-25. doi: 10.1111/dar.12191.


Issues: Reviews recommend controlling alcohol availability to limit alcohol-related harm. However, the translation of this evidence into policy processes has proved challenging in some jurisdictions.

Approach: This paper presents a critical review of empirical spatial and temporal availability research to identify its features and limitations for informing alcohol availability policies. The UK is used as an example jurisdiction. It reviews 138 studies from a 2008 systematic review of empirical availability research and our update of this to January 2014. Data describing study characteristics (settings, measures, design) were extracted and descriptively analysed.

Key findings: Important limitations in current evidence were identified: (i) outlet-level temporal availability was only measured in three studies, and there has been little innovation in measurement of spatial availability; (ii) empirical analyses focus on acute harms with few studies of longer-term harms; (iii) outlets are typically classified at aggregated levels with little empirical analysis of variation within outlet categories; (iv) evidence comes from a narrow range of countries; and (v) availability away from home, online availability and interactions between availability, price and place are all relatively unexamined.

Implications: Greater innovation in study and measure design and enhanced data quality are required. Greater engagement between researchers and policy actors when developing studies would facilitate this.

Conclusions: Research and data innovations are needed to address a series of methodological gaps and limitations in the alcohol availability evidence base, advance this research area and enable findings to be translated effectively into policy processes.

Keywords: alcohol consumption; alcohol outlet density; review; spatial analysis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control*
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Alcoholic Beverages / supply & distribution*
  • Commerce / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • Spatial Analysis
  • Spatio-Temporal Analysis
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology