OBJECTIVE: Typologies of the cultural position of drinking from the social science literature are reviewed. METHOD: The article reviews significant studies and literature on the topic. RESULTS: Starting in the 1940s, two research traditions considered variations in the cultural position of drinking as explanations of rates of drinking problems. A "holocultural" tradition coded and analyzed ethnographic data on tribal and village societies, starting in the 1940s, with each study identifying a different social dimension as crucial. A "sociocultural" tradition distinguished abstinent cultures from prescriptive cultures, in which drinking was integrated with daily life, and expected, but drunkenness was prohibited. These types were implicitly contrasted with American drinking, which was variously characterized. Other dimensional and typological approaches in the literature are considered, including a little-known Jellinek typology. Problems with the widely used distinction between "wetter" and "drier" (or "temperance") cultures are discussed. CONCLUSIONS: Four ideal types of the cultural position of drinking can be readily distinguished: abstinent societies, constrained ritual drinking, banalized drinking and fiesta drunkenness. A large residual category remains, however, and a dimensional approach to typology building may be more fruitful. Two basic dimensions are proposed--regularity of drinking and extent of drunkenness--and further dimensions are described that may be added to fit the requirements of the particular study.