AIMS: To investigate whether the predominant finding of generalized positive associations between self-rated motives for drinking alcohol and negative consequences of drinking alcohol are influenced by (i) using raw scores of motives that may weight inter-individual response behaviours too strongly, and (ii) predictor-criterion contamination by using consequence items where respondents attribute alcohol use as the cause. DESIGN: Cross-sectional study within the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and other Drugs (ESPAD). SETTING: School classes. PARTICIPANTS: Students, aged 13-16 (n = 5633). MEASUREMENTS: Raw, rank and mean-variance standardized scores of the Drinking Motives Questionnaire--Revised (DMQ-R); four consequences: serious problems with friends, sexual intercourse regretted the next day, physical fights and troubles with the police, each itemized with attribution ('because of your alcohol use') and without. FINDINGS: As found previously in the literature, raw scores for all drinking motives had positive associations with negative consequences of drinking, while transformed (rank or Z) scores showed a more specific pattern: external reinforcing motives (social, conformity) had negative and internal reinforcing motives (enhancement, coping) had non-significant or positive associations with negative consequences. Attributed consequences showed stronger associations with motives than non-attributed ones. CONCLUSION: Standard scoring of the Drinking Motives Questionnaire (Revised) fails to capture motives in a way that permits specific associations with different negative consequences to be identified, whereas use of rank or Z-scores does permit this. Use of attributed consequences overestimates the association with drinking motives.