BACKGROUND: Social roles influence alcohol use. Nevertheless, little is known about how specific aspects of a given role, here parenthood, may influence alcohol use. The research questions for this study were the following: (i) are family-related indicators (FRI) linked to the alcohol use of mothers and fathers? and (ii) does the level of employment, i.e. full-time, part-time employment or unemployment, moderate the relationship between FRI and parental alcohol use? METHODS: Survey data of 3217 parents aged 25-50 living in Switzerland. Mean comparisons and multiple regression models of annual frequency of drinking and risky single occasion drinking, quantity per day on FRI (age of the youngest child, number of children in the household, majority of child-care/household duties). RESULTS: Protective relationships between FRI and alcohol use were observed among mothers. In contrast, among fathers, detrimental associations between FRI and alcohol use were observed. Whereas maternal responsibilities in general had a protective effect on alcohol use, the number of children had a detrimental impact on the quantity of alcohol consumed per day when mothers were in paid employment. Among fathers, the correlations between age of the youngest child, number of children and frequency of drinking was moderated by the level of paid employment. CONCLUSION: The study showed that in Switzerland, a systematic negative relationship was more often found between FRI and women's drinking than men's. Evidence was found that maternal responsibilities per se may protect from alcohol use but can turn into a detrimental triangle if mothers are additionally in paid employment.