Tougher laws could be placed on the drinks industry after a review found voluntary standards are not working, it was announced today.
If the new rules are brought in following a consultation into Britain's drinking culture then shops could be forced to display alcohol in separate areas rather than by the checkout.
Happy hours and irresponsible price-based promotions would be restricted and small sizes offered alongside larger ones.
Manufacturers will be given until the end of the year to put the required warnings and advice on bottles and cans.
If not, the government will move to put a mandatory scheme in place. This would require health and unit information on all drinks containers.
The consultation comes as new evidence suggests that alcohol is a far wider cause of damage to people's health than previously suspected.
New calculations released today put the cost of alcohol misuse to society at £17.7 billion to £25.1 billion per year, with a cost to the NHS of £2.7 billion.
And figures have also been published showing alcohol-related hospital admissions using new methods.
Previously, admissions statistics only counted the three most common types of alcohol-related diseases: alcoholic liver disease, alcohol poisoning, and mental and behavioural disorders.
The new methodology measures a total of 44 conditions which research shows are caused by or strongly associated with alcohol consumption.
The new figures show there were 811,000 admissions in 2006 (accounting for six per cent of all admissions) compared with 473,500 in 2002.
"The evidence from this series of reviews, and the hospital admissions data, clearly make this the right time to consult on a far tougher approach to the alcohol industry," said public health minister Dawn Primarolo.
"The drinks industry has a vital role to play if we are to change the country's attitudes to alcohol. Some sections of the industry are sticking to the voluntary codes, others are blatantly ignoring them.
"This consultation will decide whether legally binding regulations for retailers and manufacturers to promote sensible drinking are the way forward."
The Royal College of Physicians and Alcohol Health Alliance have welcomed the proposals for tougher control on the drinks industry.
"I'm delighted that the government recognises the failure of voluntary agreements with the drinks industry over a decade and is prepared to tackle irresponsible behaviour around the sale and promotion of alcoholic drinks," said Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians and chair of the UK Alcohol Health Alliance.