Objective. To assess and compare the extent of high-risk drinking and factors associated with high-risk drinking in the adult female population of a rural and an urban region in South Africa. Design. Cross-sectional household survey using multistage sampling methods. Setting. A rural wine farming area of the Western Cape and an urban site in Gauteng. Subjects. Women of reproductive age (18 - 44 years). Outcome measures. The extent of risky alcohol consumption measured using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) scale which categorises current drinkers into highand low-risk drinkers. Results. Twenty-seven per cent (166/606) and 46% (188/412) of the women interviewed in Gauteng and the Western Cape respectively were current drinkers. In turn, 20% (33/166) of the Gauteng current drinkers and 68% (128/188) of the Western Cape current drinkers were classified as high-risk drinkers. Multivariate analysis indicated that employed people in Gauteng were less likely to be high-risk drinkers (odds ratio (OR) 0.3, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.1 - 0.8). Living in a household that never/seldom went hungry was inversely associated with risky drinking for both sites (OR 0.3, 95% CI 0.1 - 0.9 for Gauteng and OR 0.2, 95% CI 0.3 - 1.2 for the Western Cape). Current smokers (Western Cape) (OR 7.6, 95% CI 3.1 - 18.9) and respondents with an alcohol problem in one or more family members (both sites) (OR 6.0, 95% CI 2.3 - 15.7 and OR 3.1, 95% CI 1.5 - 6.4) were more likely to be high-risk drinkers. Conclusions. High-risk drinking by women is a major problem, especially in the Western Cape. Targeted interventions are needed for women with alcohol problems in the family setting, lower socio-economic status, and concurrent substance abuse.