Alcohol withdrawal symptoms, particularly negative emotional states, can persist for months following the removal of alcohol. These protracted withdrawal symptoms have been implicated as an important trigger of relapse to excessive drinking in alcoholics and may represent a long lasting shift in affective tone as a result of chronic alcohol exposure. It was shown previously that ethanol-dependent rats increased their operant responding for ethanol when tested during the first 12 hr after withdrawal. The purpose of the present experiments was to determine the persistence of this finding by examining operant oral ethanol self-administration in rats with a history of physical dependence upon ethanol, detoxified and then allowed a two week period of protracted abstinence. The results of these experiments indicate that operant responding for ethanol was enhanced during protracted abstinence by 30-100% and remained elevated for 4-8 weeks post acute withdrawal. These results have important implications for understanding the characteristics and mechanisms underlying vulnerability to relapse.