Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) intervening in the area of alcohol problems are varied and have different histories depending on their political, social and cultural contexts; some are long-established and often bear a heavy heritage, while others have recently arisen from the upheavals in eastern Europe and the developing countries. All of them, however, must solve certain ethical problems if they are to move away from a hygiene-based approach and focus on individual responsibility. The role of NGOs is located between dreaming of a better world and rising up against a market-based system where health and the quality of life take second place to commercial interests. Furthermore, their role is to be found between the impulsive nature of action and the often demotivating process of scientific reasoning and analysis. NGOs can intervene flexibly in all the fields of information, training, advocacy and assistance. They can readily position themselves in the long time-frame required for prevention and in a space freed from burdensome administrative procedures. Their actions often appear to entail criticism of the authorities; in fact, however, they complement the latter, by countering the "hands off" or fatalistic approach of certain communities in the face of the alcohol risk.