Aims: To identify how current public health policies of 12 developed countries assess alcohol-related problems, the goals and targets that are set and the strategic directives proposed. Methods: Policy documents on alcohol and on general public heath were obtained through repeated searches of government websites. Documents were reviewed by two independent observers. Results: All the countries studied state that alcohol causes substantial harm to individual health and family well-being, increases crime and social disruption, and results in economic loss through lost productivity. All are concerned about consumption of alcohol by young adults and by heavy and problem drinkers. Few aim to reduce total consumption. Only five of the countries set specific targets for changes in drinking behaviour. Countries vary in their commitment to intervene, particularly on taxation, drink-driving, the drinking environment and for high-risk groups. Australia and New Zealand stand out as having coordinated intervention programmes in most areas. Conclusions: Policies differ markedly in their organization, the goals and targets that are set, the strategic approaches proposed and areas identified for intervention. Most countries could improve their policies by following the recommendations in the World Heath Organizations European Alcohol Action Plan.