Aim To review and discuss measurement issues in survey assessment of alcohol consumption for epidemiological studies.
Methods The following areas are considered: implications of cognitive studies of question answering such as self-referenced schemata of drinking, reference period and retrospective recall, as well as the assets and liabilities of types of current (e.g. food frequency, quantity–frequency, graduated frequencies and heavy drinking indicators) and life-time drinking measures. Finally we consider units of measurement and improving measurement by detailing the ethanol content of drinks in natural settings.
Results and conclusions Cognitive studies suggest inherent limitations in the measurement enterprise, yet diary studies show promise of broadly validating methods that assess a range of drinking amounts per occasion; improvements in survey measures of drinking in the life course are indicated; attending in detail to on- and off-premise drink pour sizes and ethanol concentrations of various beverages shows promise of narrowing the coverage gap plaguing survey alcohol measurement.