Aims. To assess the prevalence of alcohol abuse and the prevalence of alcohol-related discharge diagnosis in an elderly general hospital population. Design. On a randomly selected day, all patients aged 65 years and over admitted to a university hospital were screened. Setting. University Hospital of Amiens, France. Participants. All patients aged 65 years and over were approached and requested to take part in the study. They were interviewed using the CAGE questionnaire and with a structured questionnaire regarding life-style, and asked about their usual daily alcohol consumption. The medical history of each patient was taken. In total, 612 patients fulfilled the age criteria, but 205 patients (33.6%) had to be excluded owing to predefined exclusion criteria (e.g. dementia, aphasia, terminal illness) and 37 patients (6%) refused to participate. Findings. The data were derived from 370 patients. The median age was 79 years; 54% reported no alcohol consumption; 9% of patients scored positive on the CAGE questionnaire. The prevalence of patients with a CAGE questionnaire positive was significantly higher among male patients (17%) than female patients (2.5%). The prevalence of patients with alcohol-related discharge diagnosis was 7%. The frequency of higher socio-economic status or divorced status increased significantly with alcohol consumption. Conclusions. There may be a substantial prevalence of alcohol problems in elderly hospital patients. Research is needed to examine how generalized this problem is.