Rats fed a high-fat ethanol-containing diet for 2 weeks were found to generate free radicals in liver and heart in vivo. The radicals are believed to be carbon-centered radicals, were detected by administering spin-trapping agents to the rats, and were characterized by electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy. The radicals in the liver were demonstrated to be localized in the endoplasmic reticulum. Rats fed ethanol in a low-fat diet showed significantly less free radical generation. Control animals given isocaloric diets without ethanol showed no evidence of free radicals in liver and heart. When liver microsomes prepared from rats fed the high-fat ethanol diet were incubated in a system containing ethanol, NADPH, and a spin-trapping agent, the generation of 1-hydroxyethyl radicals was observed. The latter was verified by using 13C-substituted ethanol. Microsomes from animals fed the high-fat ethanol-containing diet had higher levels of cytochrome P-450 than microsomes from rats fed the low-fat ethanol-containing diet. The results suggest that the consumption of ethanol results in the production of free radicals in rat liver and heart in vivo that appear to initiate lipid peroxidation.