AIMS: To describe the epidemiology of heavy alcohol use in Ukraine, using data from the world mental health (WMH) survey in Ukraine. METHODS: The WMH composite international diagnostic interview was administered in 2002 to a national probability sample of Ukrainian adults (n=4725). An algorithm for classifying heavy use in the past year was developed from self-reports about the quantity and frequency of drinking, and its convergent validity was demonstrated. Prevalence rates and socio-demographic risk factors were examined separately for men and women. RESULTS: The 12-month rates of heavy alcohol use were 38.7% in men and 8.5% in women (22.0% overall). Among heavy alcohol users, 92% of men and 52% of women consumed at least 80 g of ethanol in a typical drinking day on a monthly basis in the year before the interview. The most significant risk factors in men and women were age (26-54 years for men; 18-25 years for women), living in the Southeast region, being in the labour force whether employed or unemployed, and for men, low education and being the father of a young child. A highly significant linear relationship of number of risk factors with heavy alcohol use was found for both sexes. CONCLUSIONS: The rates for men were similar to those reported in a Russian national survey with the exception of Southeast Ukraine where the rate was >10% higher. The highest rates were among men who were middle-aged, fathers and unemployed. Future prospective studies are needed to assess the impact of heavy alcohol use on Ukrainian health, mental health and occupational and social functioning.