To make quantitative estimates on a global basis of exposure of disease-relevant dimensions of alcohol consumption, i.e. average volume of alcohol consumption and patterns of drinking.Secondary data analysis.Level of average volume of drinking was estimated by a triangulation of data on per capita consumption and from general population surveys. Patterns of drinking were measured by an index composed of several indicators for heavy drinking occasions, an indicator of drinking with meals and an indicator of public drinking. Average volume of consumption was assessed by sex and age within each country, and patterns of drinking only by country; estimates for the global subregions were derived from the population-weighted average of the countries. For more than 90% of the world population, per capita consumption was known, and for more than 80% of the world population, survey data were available.On the country level, average volume of alcohol consumption and patterns of drinking were independent. There was marked variation between WHO subregions on both dimensions. Average volume of drinking was highest in established market economies in Western Europe and the former Socialist economies in the Eastern part of Europe and in North America, and lowest in the Eastern Mediterranean region and parts of Southeast Asia including India. Patterns were most detrimental in the former Socialist economies in the Eastern part of Europe, in Middle and South America and parts of Africa. Patterns were least detrimental in Western Europe and in developed countries in the Western Pacific region (e.g., Japan).Although exposure to alcohol varies considerably between regions, the overall exposure by volume is quite high and patterns are relatively detrimental. The predictions for the future are not favorable, both with respect to average volume and to patterns of drinking.