The association of ethanol with unilamellar dimyristoyl phosphatidylcholine (DMPC) liposomes of varying cholesterol content has been investigated by isothermal titration calorimetry over a wide temperature range (8-45 degrees C). The calorimetric data show that the interaction of ethanol with the lipid membranes is endothermic and strongly dependent on the phase behavior of the mixed lipid bilayer, specifically whether the lipid bilayer is in the solid ordered (so), liquid disordered (ld), or liquid ordered (lo) phase. In the low concentration regime (<10 mol%), cholesterol enhances the affinity of ethanol for the lipid bilayer compared to pure DMPC bilayers, whereas higher levels of cholesterol (>10 mol%) reduce affinity of ethanol for the lipid bilayer. Moreover, the experimental data reveal that the affinity of ethanol for the DMPC bilayers containing small amounts of cholesterol is enhanced in the region around the main phase transition. The results suggest the existence of a close relationship between the physical structure of the lipid bilayer and the association of ethanol with the bilayer. In particular, the existence of dynamically coexisting domains of gel and fluid lipids in the transition temperature region may play an important role for association of ethanol with the lipid bilayers. Finally, the relation between cholesterol content and the affinity of ethanol for the lipid bilayer provides some support for the in vivo observation that cholesterol acts as a natural antagonist against alcohol intoxication.