Aims: To examine the role of ethnicity and cultural identity in alcohol use and misuse in a birth cohort of over 1000 young people. Methods: Data on ethnicity, cultural identification, alcohol use, alcohol abuse/dependence (AAD), socio-economic factors and childhood adversity were gathered as part of a longitudinal study of a New Zealand birth cohort (the Christchurch Health and Development Study). Results: Those reporting Maori ethnicity had rates of alcohol use and AAD that were 1.47–1.63 times higher than the rates found in the non-Maori people. However, there was little evidence to suggest that rates of alcohol use and AAD differed according to Maori cultural identity. Generalized estimating equation regression analyses adjusting for socio-economic disadvantage and childhood adversity slightly reduced the magnitude of these associations, but they remained statistically significant [AAD: odds ratio = 1.52; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.11–2.10; consumption: incidence rate ratio = 1.31; 95% CI: 1.13–1.52]. Conclusion: (a) Maori ethnicity was found to be associated with modestly increased risks of alcohol use and AAD (b) the higher rates of alcohol use and AAD among the Maori members of the cohort could not be explained by a combination of socio-economic factors and greater exposure to environmental factors known to influence the risk of alcohol use and misuse.