Aims. It has been suggested that the effects of alcohol, and binge drinking in particular, contributed to the dramatic fluctuations in Russian mortality rates: rapid decline in 1985-87, slow increase in 1988-91 and sharp increase in 1992-94. To date, there have been no data available to substantiate this claim. We examine for the first time the trends in alcohol intake and binge drinking in a Russian urban population. Methods. Independent random samples of men and women aged 25-64 in two districts of Novosibirsk city (Western Siberia) have been examined in 1985/86 (1535 men and 1296 women), 1988/89 (1700 men, no women), and 1994/95 (1539 men and 1511 women). Response rates ranged from 71% to 73%. The subjects reported frequency of drinking alcohol, average amount of alcohol consumed at a typical occasion, and their alcohol intake in the week preceding the interview. Two cut-off points to define binge drinking were adopted: ≥ 80 g and ≥ 120 g at a single occasion. Results. The proportion of men who drank at least once a week increased from 27% in 1985/86 to 38% in 1994/95; corresponding figures among women were 0.6% and 6.5%, respectively. The mean consumption of pure alcohol at a single occasion in men was 90 g in 1985/86, 119 g in 1988/89 and 112 g in 1994/95; in women, it was 33 g in 1985/86 and 32 g in 1994/95. Between the first and the last survey, the mean weekly intake of pure alcohol increased from 120 g to 184 g in men and from 31 g to 41 g in women. Prevalence rates of binge drinking (≥ 80 g at least once a month) in the three surveys were 36%, 52% and 51%, respectively, in men, and 0.4% in the first and 5% in the last survey among women. Conclusion. Alcohol consumption and prevalence of binge drinking were high in men and low in women. The frequency of binge drinking among men increased between 1985/86 and 1988/89 and remained stable between 1988/89 and 1994/95. This is not consistent with trends in mortality. Shorter-term fluctuations between surveys, however, cannot be excluded.