The effect of average volume of alcohol on coronary heart disease (CHD) is J-shaped in established market economies. Light to moderate drinkers have less risk than abstainers, with heavy drinkers displaying the highest level of risk. This relationship between average volume of alcohol consumption and CHD is modified by different patterns of drinking. Heavy drinking occasions as well as drinking outside meals are related to increased CHD risk, independently of volume of drinking. Beverage type does not seem to have much impact, even though there are some indications that wine is more protective than other forms of alcohol. Physiological mechanisms have been identified to explain this complex relationship between alcohol and CHD. Since patterns of drinking are important in determining CHD risk, they should be included in future epidemiologic studies, together with biomarkers further to test hypotheses about pathways.