In this article, we critically reflect on the constitution of the UK's alcohol problem in the government's 'Safe, Social, Sensible' policy document, referring to findings from a 3-year ESRC funded study on young people, alcohol and identity. We suggest that discursive themes running throughout 'Safe, Sensible, Social' include 'shared responsibility' for implementing a 'cultural change', 'youth and binge drinking' and the need to promote 'sensible' levels of alcohol consumption to individual drinkers. We argue that, in constituting the problem around these themes, the policy document risks diluting responsibility and obscuring the role of government, media and alcohol manufacturers. In addition, the way young drinkers are constituted carries a risk of isolating this group as both cause and effect of the alcohol problem, placing an unrealistic burden of responsibility on local communities and agencies and exacerbating the gap between policy assumptions and the lived reality of young drinkers within their cultural context. We conclude that alcohol policy requires a more substantive, clearly specified and evidence-based approach which acknowledges the complexities of drinking contexts and drinker motivations in the allocation of responsibility and formulation of policy. In particular, policy needs to address the role of legislation and licensing laws, and the branding and marketing activities of the drinks industry in the structure of UK alcohol consumption.