Background: We compared risks of first contact with services for an alcohol use disorder (AUD) or drug use disorder (DUD) between the largest immigrant groups to the Netherlands and Dutch nationals. We tested the hypothesis that the ethnic pattern for DUD is similar to the previously demonstrated pattern for schizophrenia. Methods: Retrospective, population-based cohort study of First Admissions to Dutch psychiatric hospitals during the period 1990-1996 (national data) and First Contacts with inpatient or outpatient centres in Rotterdam for treatment of AUD or DUD during the period 1992-2001 (Rotterdam data). Results: In both datasets the risk of service contact for AUD was significantly lower in immigrants from Surinam, Turkey and Morocco than in Dutch nationals. The risk was lower or moderately higher in immigrants from western countries. Analysis of the national data showed that, compared with Dutch males, the risk of first hospital admission for DUD was higher for male immigrants from the Dutch Antilles (RR = 4.6; 95% CI: 4.0-5.3), Surinam (RR = 4.3; 3.9-4.7) and Morocco (RR = 2.3; 2.0-2.6), but not for male immigrants from Turkey (RR = 0.9; 0.7-1.1). A similar pattern was found with the Rotterdam data. Female immigrants from Surinam and the Dutch Antilles had a higher risk for DUD according to the national data, but a lower risk according to the Rotterdam data. Female immigrants from Turkey and Morocco had a lower risk (both datasets). Immigrants from western countries had a higher risk for DUD, but many had developed the disorder before emigrating. Conclusion: Those immigrant groups in the Netherlands that are at increased risk of schizophrenia appear also at increased risk of developing DUD, but not AUD.