BACKGROUND: Alcohol is a leading risk factor for avoidable disease burden. Research suggests that a drinker's social network can play an integral role in addressing hazardous (i.e., high-risk) or problem drinking. Often however, social networks do not have adequate mental health literacy (i.e., knowledge about mental health problems, like problem drinking, or how to treat them). This is a concern as the response that a drinker receives from their social network can have a substantial impact on their willingness to seek help. This paper describes the development of mental health first aid guidelines that inform community members on how to help someone who may have, or may be developing, a drinking problem (i.e., alcohol abuse or dependence). METHODS: A systematic review of the research and lay literature was conducted to develop a 285-item survey containing strategies on how to help someone who may have, or may be developing, a drinking problem. Two panels of experts (consumers/carers and clinicians) individually rated survey items, using a Delphi process. Surveys were completed online or via postal mail. Participants were 99 consumers, carers and clinicians with experience or expertise in problem drinking from Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Items that reached consensus on importance were retained and written into guidelines. RESULTS: The overall response rate across all three rounds was 68.7% (67.6% consumers/carers, 69.2% clinicians), with 184 first aid strategies rated as essential or important by > or =80% of panel members. The endorsed guidelines provide guidance on how to: recognize problem drinking; approach someone if there is concern about their drinking; support the person to change their drinking; respond if they are unwilling to change their drinking; facilitate professional help seeking and respond if professional help is refused; and manage an alcohol-related medical emergency. CONCLUSION: The guidelines provide a consensus-based resource for community members seeking to help someone with a drinking problem. Improving community awareness and understanding of how to identify and support someone with a drinking problem may lead to earlier recognition of problem drinking and greater facilitation of professional help seeking.