Target 17 of the Health Policy for Europe calls for the health-damaging consumption of dependence-producing substances such as alcohol, tobacco and psychoactive substances to be significantly reduced in all Member States between the year 1980 and the year 2000. With regard to alcohol, it is suggested that alcohol consumption be reduced by 25%, with particular attention to reducing harmful use. A question posed by a number of Member States is what is the level of per capita alcohol consumption of lowest risk to physical, psychological and social harm. A working group was convened to consider population levels of alcohol consumption with particular reference to the Member States of the European Region of WHO. A basis for understanding population problem experience can be established through the interaction between individual risk and distribution of consumption levels within the population. The working group concluded that public health policy within the European Region should continue to advise decreases of per capita consumption. Even when taking into account coronary heart disease, it can be concluded at the population level, across all ranges of alcohol consumption found in almost all countries of Europe, that a reduction in consumption is linked to better health. However, public health policy concerning alcohol should not be based solely on mortality. All outcomes of drinking, that is mortality, morbidity, social and criminal consequences, as well as quality of life, should be considered. The existing data relating alcohol consumption to health originates from countries primarily with a cultural experience of consuming alcohol. In those countries, where there is a cultural or religious tradition of not consuming alcohol, there can be no public health grounds for recommending alcohol consumption.