Early consumption of full servings of alcohol and early experience of drunkenness have been linked with alcohol-related harmful effects in adolescence, as well as adult health and social problems. On the basis of secondary analysis of county-level prevalence data, the present study explored the current pattern of drinking and drunkenness among 15- and 16-year-old adolescents in 40 European and North American countries. Data from the 2006 Health Behavior in School Children survey and the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and other Drugs were used. The potential role of alcohol control and policy measures in explaining variance in drinking patterns across countries was also examined. Policy measures and data on adult consumption patterns were taken from the WHO Global Information System on Alcohol and Health, Eurostat and the indicator of alcohol control policy strength developed by Brand DA, Saisana M, Rynn LA et al. [(2007) Comparative analysis of alcohol control policies in 30 countries. PLoS Med 4:e151.]. We found that a non-significant trend existed whereby higher prices and stronger alcohol controls were associated with a lower proportion of weekly drinking but a higher proportion of drunkenness. It is important that future research explores the causal relationships between alcohol policy measures and alcohol consumption patterns to determine whether strict policies do in fact have any beneficial effect on drinking patterns, or rather, lead to rebellion and an increased prevalence of binge drinking.