Aims: We examined the prevalence of heavy episodic drinking in general practice attenders who were non-hazardous drinkers, the associated risk factors and the outcome over 6 months. Methods: Consecutive attenders aged 18-75 were recruited from the UK, Spain, Slovenia, Estonia, the Netherlands and Portugal and followed up after 6 months. Data were collected on alcohol use using the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification test (at recruitment and 6 months) and risk factors for heavy episodic alcohol use at recruitment. Results: The prevalence of heavy episodic drinking in non-hazardous drinkers was 4.5% across Europe [lowest in Portugal (1.5%); highest Netherlands (8.4%)]. It was less frequent in Spain, Slovenia, Estonia and Portugal compared with the UK and Netherlands. It was higher in men [odd ratio (OR) 4.4, 95% confidence interval (CI) 3.3, 5.9], people between 18 and 29 years of age, those employed (OR 1.8, 95% CI 1.3, 2.6) and those using recreational drugs (OR 2.1, 95% CI 1.4, 3.3). It was lower in people with existing DSMIV major depression (OR 0.54, 95% CI 0.31, 0.96). Heavy episodic drinkers were more likely to become hazardous drinkers at 6 months (male: OR 7.2, 95% CI 4.1, 12.7; female: OR 9.4, 95% CI 4.3, 20.6). Conclusion: Women and men in the UK, men in the Netherlands and younger people in all countries are at the greatest risk of exhibiting heavy episodic drinking behaviours even in the absence of hazardous alcohol use. There is hence an urgent need for general practitioners to consider early detection and management of heavy episodic drinking behaviour in this population.