OBJECTIVES: To describe patterns of alcohol consumption in the Americas, to estimate the burden of disease attributable to alcohol in the year 2000, and to suggest implications for policies to reduce alcohol-related disease burden. METHODS: Two dimensions of alcohol exposure were included in this secondary data analysis: average volume of alcohol consumption and patterns of drinking. There were two main outcome measures: mortality (number of deaths) and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) lost (number of years of life lost due to premature mortality and disability). Separate estimates were obtained for different sexes, age groups and WHO regions. RESULTS: Despite regional variations, alcohol consumption in the Americas averaged more than 50% higher than worldwide consumption. Patterns of irregular heavy drinking prevailed. Alcohol consumption caused a considerable disease burden: 4.8% of all the deaths and 9.7% of all DALYs lost in the year 2000 were attributable to drinking, with most of the burden occurring outside North America. Intentional and unintentional injuries accounted for 59.8% of all alcohol-related deaths and 38.4% of the alcohol-related disease burden. Of all risk factors compared here, alcohol accounted for the greatest proportion of risk, followed by smoking. CONCLUSIONS: Interventions should be implemented to reduce the high burden of alcohol-related disease in the Americas. Given the epidemiological structure of this burden, injury prevention including, but not restricted to, prevention of traffic injuries, as well as appropriate treatment options, should play an important role in comprehensive plans to reduce the alcohol-related public health burden.