Alcohol use peaks in early adulthood and can contribute both directly and indirectly to unhealthy weight gain. This is the first qualitative study to explore the links between unhealthy eating behaviour and heavy alcohol use in the social, emotional and cultural lives of young adults. We conducted 45 in-depth interviews with 18–25-year-olds in North-East England to inform development of a dual-focused intervention to reduce health risk due to excess weight gain and alcohol use. Data were analysed thematically, following the principles of constant comparison, resulting in three intersecting themes: (1) how food and alcohol consumption currently link together for this population group; (2) influences upon linked eating and drinking behaviours and (3) young adults’ feelings and concerns about linked eating and drinking behaviours. Socio-cultural, physical and emotional links between food and alcohol consumption were an unquestioned norm among young adults. Eating patterns linked to alcohol use were not tied only to hunger, but also to sociability, traditions and identity. Young adults conceptualised and calculated risks to weight, appearance and social status, rather than to long-term health. This study is the first to evidence the deeply interconnected nature of food and alcohol consumption for many young adults. Findings have important implications for intervention development, UK public health policy and practice, and point to a need for similar research in other countries.