To identify factors asociated with early and sustained cessation of heavy drinking. Retrospective cohort study over 5 years. Kaiser Permanente Northern California, United States. Adults reporting heavy drinking during primary care-based alcohol screening between 1 June 2013 and 31 May 2014. The sample (n = 85 434) was 40.7% female and 33.8% non-white; mean age was 50.3 years (standard deviation = 18.1). Following US guidelines, early and sustained cessation of heavy drinking was defined as reporting lower-risk drinking or abstinence at 1 year and to 5 years after achieving early cessation, respectively. Associations between patient characteristics and service use and cessation outcomes were examined using logistic regression with inverse probability weights addressing attrition. Nearly two-thirds of participants achieved early cessation of heavy drinking. Women [odds ratio (OR) = 1.39, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.35, 1.44], middle-age (35-64 years: ORs = 1.16-1.19), non-white race/ethnicity (ORs = 1.03-1.57), medical conditions (OR = 1.05, 95% CI = 1.04, 1.06), psychiatric (OR = 1.10, 95% CI = 1.06, 1.15) and drug use disorders (OR = 1.35, 95% CI = 1.17, 1.56) and addiction treatment (OR = 1.19, 95% CI = 1.09, 1.30) were associated with higher odds of early cessation, while older age (≥ 65 years: OR = 0.91, 95% CI = 0.86, 0.96), smoking (OR = 0.81, 95% CI = 0.77, 0.84), higher index drinking levels (exceeding both daily and weekly limits: OR = 0.30, 95% CI = 0.29, 0.32) and psychiatric treatment (OR = 0.91, 95% CI = 0.84, 0.99) were associated with lower odds. Among those who achieved early cessation (n = 19 200), 60.0% sustained cessation. Associations between patient factors and sustained cessation paralleled those observed in analyses of early cessation. Additionally, routine primary care (OR = 1.57, 95% CI = 1.44, 1.71) and addiction treatment post-1 year (OR = 1.41, 95% CI = 1.19, 1.66) were associated with higher odds of sustained cessation. Lower-risk drinking versus abstinence at 1 year was associated with lower odds of sustained cessation (OR = 0.62, 95% CI = 0.57, 0.66). Nearly two-thirds of a large, diverse sample of patients who reported heavy drinking in a Californian health-care system achieved early and sustained cessation of heavy drinking. Vulnerable subgroups (i.e. non-white patients and those with psychiatric disorders), patients who received routine primary care and those who received addiction treatment were more likely to sustain cessation of heavy drinking than other participants.