Tobacco use and heavy alcohol consumption are risk factors for head and neck cancer (HNC), including oral, pharynx, and larynx cancer. No study has investigated the preventable burden of HNC attributable to tobacco and alcohol in China. We extracted data from 1990 to 2019 from the Global Burden of Disease. The preventable burden attributable to tobacco and alcohol was estimated by subtracting the overlapping fraction derived from a literature search. Descriptive analyses were performed initially, followed by joinpoint regression and age-period-cohort (APC) analysis. The future burden was forecasted using a Bayesian APC model. The crude burden increased significantly, while the age-standardized rates showed a downward trend from 1990 to 2019 in China. Both all-age and age-standardized population attributable fractions rose significantly, potentially due to the poor prognosis of tobacco- and alcohol-associated HNC. The absolute burden would continue to climb in the next 20 years from 2019, largely due to population aging. For site-specific burden, compared with total, pharynx, and larynx cancer burden, the substantial upward trend of oral cancer burden indicated a strong interaction with risk factors such as genetic susceptibility, betel nut chewing, oral microbiota, and human papillomavirus. The burden of oral cancer attributable to tobacco and alcohol is a major concern and is anticipated to become more severe than cancer in other anatomic sites. Altogether, our study provides useful information to rethink the current restrictions on tobacco and alcohol, lean healthcare resources, and develop effective HNC prevention and control strategies.© 2023 The Authors. Cancer Science published by John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd on behalf of Japanese Cancer Association.