The use of antibiotic drugs was studied in university teaching hospitals in Tartu, Estonia, Huddinge, Sweden and Badajoz, Spain. Data on drug deliveries to hospital wards during 1992 are presented in defined daily doses (DDD) per 100 bed-days (DDD/100 bed-days). In addition, the time trends of antibiotic use in Tartu University Hospital from 1992 to 1995 are shown. The total amount of antibiotic drugs used for systemic treatment in 1992 was similar in the 3 hospitals, 41 DDD/100 bed-days in Tartu vs. 51 DDD/100 bed-days in Badajoz and 47 DDD/100 bed-days in Huddinge. The antibiotics used most frequently were tetracyclines and aminoglycosides in Tartu, broad-spectrum penicillins and cephalosporins in Badajoz and narrow-spectrum penicillins and cephalosporins in Huddinge. Injectable preparations accounted for one-half of the antibiotics used. Among the medical departments, the total use of antibiotics varied up to 3-fold (from 19 to 61 DDD/100 bed-days), less than among the surgical departments (18-94 DDD/100 bed-days). The frequency of antibiotic use was very similar in departments of similar profile in the 3 hospitals (i.e. in departments of neurology, urology, etc.). The use of antibiotic drugs in intensive care units was twice as high in Huddinge (243 DDD/100 bed-days) as in Badajoz (106 DDD/100 bed-days) and Tartu (135 DDD/100 bed-days) in 1992. In conclusion, the international differences in the use of antibiotics in hospital were not in the frequency of use, but in the predominant prescription preferences in the hospital.