AIMS: This study aims to document the adverse effects of drinkers in Australia on people other than the drinker. DESIGN: Cross-sectional survey. SETTING: In a national survey of Australia, respondents described the harmful effects they experienced from drinkers in their households, family and friendship networks, as well as work-place and community settings. PARTICIPANTS: A randomly selected sample of 2,649 adult Australians. MEASUREMENTS: Problems experienced because of others' drinking were ascertained via computer-assisted telephone interviews. Respondent and drinker socio-demographic and drinking pattern data were recorded. FINDINGS: A total of 70% of respondents were affected by strangers' drinking and experienced nuisance, fear or abuse, and 30% reported that the drinking of someone close to them had negative effects, although only 11% were affected by such a person 'a lot'. Women were more affected by someone they knew in the household or family, while men were more affected by strangers, friends and co-workers. Young adults were consistently the most negatively affected across the majority of types of harm. CONCLUSIONS: Substantial proportions of Australians are affected by other people's drinking, including that of their families, friends, co-workers and strangers. These harms range in magnitude from noise and fear to physical abuse, sexual coercion and social isolation.