Ethanol and its metabolite acetaldehyde have been classified as carcinogens for the upper aerodigestive tract, liver, breast and colorectum. Whereas mechanisms related to oxidative stress and Cyp2e1 induction seem to prevail in the liver, and acetaldehyde has been proposed to play a crucial role in the upper aerodigestive tract, pathological mechanisms in the colorectum have not yet been clarified. Moreover, all evidence for a pro-carcinogenic role of ethanol in colorectal cancer is derived from correlations observed in epidemiological studies or from rodent studies with additional carcinogen application or tumour suppressor gene inactivation. In the current study, wildtype mice and mice with depletion of aldehyde dehydrogenase 1b1 (Aldh1b1), an enzyme which has been proposed to play an important role in acetaldehyde detoxification in the intestines, received ethanol in drinking water for one year. Long-term ethanol consumption led to intestinal tumour development in wildtype and Aldh1b1-depleted mice, but no intestinal tumours were observed in water-treated controls. Moreover, a significant increase in DNA damage was detected in the large intestinal epithelium of ethanol-treated mice of both genotypes compared with the respective water-treated groups, along with increased proliferation of the small and large intestinal epithelium. Aldh1b1 depletion led to increased plasma acetaldehyde levels in ethanol-treated mice, to a significant aggravation of ethanol-induced intestinal hyperproliferation, and to more advanced features of intestinal tumours, but it did not affect intestinal tumour incidence. These data indicate that ethanol consumption can initiate intestinal tumourigenesis without any additional carcinogen treatment or tumour suppressor gene inactivation, and we provide evidence for a role of Aldh1b1 in protection of the intestines from ethanol-induced damage, as well as for both carcinogenic and tumour-promoting functions of acetaldehyde, including increased progression of ethanol-induced tumours.