OBJECTIVES: The present study examines whether depressed mood and external control mediate or moderate the relationship between the number of social roles and alcohol use. PARTICIPANTS: The analysis was based on a national representative sample of 25- to 45-year-old male and female drinkers in Switzerland. METHOD: The influence of depressed mood and external control on the relationship between the number of social roles (parenthood, partnership, employment) and alcohol use was examined in linear structural equation models (mediation) and in multiple regressions (moderation) stratified by gender. All analyses were adjusted for age and education level. RESULTS: Holding more roles was associated with lower alcohol use, lower external control and lower depressed mood. The study did not find evidence of depressed mood or external control mediating the social roles-alcohol relationship. A moderation effect was identified among women only, whereby a protective effect of having more roles could not be found among those who scored high on external control. In general, a stronger link was observed between roles and alcohol use, while depressed mood and external control acted independently on drinking. With the exception of women with high external control, the study found no link between a higher number of social roles and greater alcohol use. CONCLUSION: Our results indicate that drinking behaviours are more strongly linked to external control and depressed mood than they are to the number of social roles. The study also demonstrates that in any effective alcohol prevention policy, societal actions that enable individuals to combine more social roles play a central role.