BACKGROUND: High volumes of alcohol consumption and risky single occasion drinking (RSOD) among university students have been shown to be associated with considerable harm to both those who consume alcohol and their fellow students. The vast majority of these studies are based on US and Canadian samples. AIM: The present article provides an overview of the characteristics of alcohol-consuming university students in Europe. METHOD: 65 relevant articles published within the last 20years using European student populations could be identified. RESULTS: Sociodemographic, individual, social, and university-related characteristics associated with alcohol consumption patterns could be identified. Male students, in particular, tended to consume alcohol more often and in higher quantities, including RSOD. Students consumed alcohol chiefly during social gatherings and for social and enhancement motives. Those without family obligations and those living alone, with roommates or in areas with a high density of students were more likely to consume alcohol in higher quantities, and to engage in RSOD. Students tend to overestimate the extent of their fellow students' alcohol consumption. CONCLUSIONS: Health promotion and prevention efforts which focus on these characteristics (i.e., gender, drinking motives, living conditions and social norms), and which have been successful and evaluated among university students in the US and Canada, may also be very promising for their European counterparts.