AIMS:To analyse how adolescent drunkenness and frequency of drinking were associated with adult drinking patterns and alcohol control policies. DESIGN, SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS:Cross-sectional survey data on 13- and 15-year-olds in 37 countries who participated in the Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) Study in 2010 (n = 144 788) were linked to national-level indicators on alcohol control policies and adult drinking patterns. MEASUREMENTS:Outcome measures were self-reported weekly drinking and life-time drunkenness (drunk once or more). Data were analysed using multi-level logistic regression models. FINDINGS:In the mutually adjusted models, adolescent drunkenness was associated significantly with high adult alcohol consumption [odds ratio (OR) = 3.15 among boys, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 2.13-4.64, OR girls = 2.44, CI = 1.57-3.80] and risky drinking patterns in the adult population (OR boys = 2.02, CI = 1.33-3.05, OR girls = 1.61, CI = 1.18-2.18). The level of abstainers in the adult population was also associated significantly with girls' drunkenness; a 10% increase in the number of abstainers in a country reduced the odds of drunkenness with 21% (OR = 0.79, CI = 0.68-0.90). Weekly drinking was associated significantly with weak restrictions on availability (OR boys = 2.82, CI = 1.74-4.54, OR girls = 2.00, CI = 1.15-3.46) and advertising (OR boys = 1.56, CI = 1.02-2.40, OR girls = 1.79, CI = 1.10-2.94). CONCLUSIONS:Comparing data cross-nationally, high levels of adult alcohol consumption and limited alcohol control policies are associated with high levels of alcohol use among adolescents.