Beta-arrestin 2 is a multifunctional key component of the G protein-coupled receptor complex and is involved in mu-opiate and dopamine D2 receptor signaling, both of which are thought to mediate the rewarding effects of ethanol consumption. We identified elevated expression of the beta-arrestin 2 gene (Arrb2) in the striatum and the hippocampus of ethanol-preferring AA rats compared to their nonpreferring counterpart ANA line. Differential mRNA expression was accompanied by different levels of Arrb2 protein. The elevated expression was associated with a 7-marker haplotype in complete linkage disequilibrium, which segregated fully between the lines, and was unique to the preferring line. Furthermore, a single, distinct, and highly significant quantitative trait locus for Arrb2 expression in hippocampus and striatum was identified at the locus of this gene, providing evidence that genetic variation may affect a cis-regulatory mechanism for expression and regional control of Arrb2. These findings were functionally validated using mice lacking Arrb2, which displayed both reduced voluntary ethanol consumption and ethanol-induced psychomotor stimulation. Our results demonstrate that beta-arrestin 2 modulates acute responses to ethanol and is an important mediator of ethanol reward.