While there were earlier surveys of drinking behaviour, the modern tradition of these surveys dates back 50 years ago, and by the 1970s encompassed a number of countries. The paper reviews developments in the modern tradition of drinking surveys. One major tradition asks respondents about very recent drinking occasions, while the other asks the respondent to summarize the behavior over a longer period. While earlier analyses differentiated between frequency of drinking and quantity per occasion, this tradition was swamped by analyses in terms of an overall volume of drinking. Now, however, there is a renewed emphasis on patterns of drinking. Current developments in characterizing drinking patterns are summarized, with the conclusion that frequency of drinking at all, and frequency of heavier drinking occasions, are dimensions important both in terms of the social meaning of drinking and of the relation to potential consequences of drinking.