Studies have suggested that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a reduced risk of CVD and premature mortality in individuals with diabetes mellitus. However, history of alcohol consumption has hardly been taken into account. We investigated the association between current alcohol consumption and mortality in men and women with diabetes mellitus accounting for past alcohol consumption. Within the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), a cohort was defined of 4797 participants with a confirmed diagnosis of diabetes mellitus. Men and women were assigned to categories of baseline and past alcohol consumption. Hazard ratios (HR) and 95 % CI for total mortality were estimated with multivariable Cox regression models, using light alcohol consumption (>0–6 g/d) as the reference category. Compared with light alcohol consumption, no relationship was observed between consumption of 6 g/d or more and total mortality. HR for >6–12 g/d was 0·89 (95 % CI 0·61, 1·30) in men and 0·86 (95 % CI 0·46, 1·60) in women. Adjustment for past alcohol consumption did not change the estimates substantially. In individuals who at baseline reported abstaining from alcohol, mortality rates were increased relative to light consumers: HR was 1·52 (95 % CI 0·99, 2·35) in men and 1·81 (95 % CI 1·04, 3·17) in women. The present study in diabetic individuals showed no association between current alcohol consumption >6 g/d and mortality risk compared with light consumption. The increased mortality risk among non-consumers appeared to be affected by their past alcohol consumption rather than their current abstinence.