The purpose of the study is to describe the long-term trends in drinking habits among Swedish students aged 15-16 years. Data were collected from 1971 to 1999, using self-administered questionnaires from nationally representative random cluster samples of school classes, totalling on average 6000 students per year. The highest proportion of alcohol consumers among both boys and girls, about 90%, was seen in the 1970s; this percentage decreased to about 80% in the 1980s and remained at that level through the 1990s. The estimated average annual consumption of pure alcohol was 4 litres for boys in 1977. It fell to 2.1 litres in 1988 and rose to 3.9 litres in 1999. The tendency was similar for girls, with 3.5 litres consumed in 1977, about 1.5 litres in the 1980s and 2.3 litres in 1999. Also frequent binge drinking and intoxication were reported by the largest proportions in the 1970s; the figures decreased in the 1980s and rose again among both boys and girls in the first part of the 1990s. Hence, although fewer of the students in this age group are alcohol consumers at the end of the 1990s compared with the 1970s, those who drink are approaching the high consumption levels of the 1970s. The beverages of choice are beer and spirits.