Ethanol has been shown to enhance gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic transmission. In this study an examination was made of the effect of chronic treatment with ethanol and its withdrawal at 24 h on the binding of [3H]flunitrazepam and [35S]t-butylbicyclophosphorothionate (TBPS) to brain regions in rat. Rats were rendered tolerant to, and dependent on, ethanol by an intragastric intubation method. The affinity (KD) or the binding capacity (Bmax) of [3H]flunitrazepam or [35S]TBPS was not altered by chronic treatment with ethanol or during withdrawal from ethanol. Neither the enhancing effect of GABA on the binding of [3H]flunitrazepam nor its inhibitory effect on the binding of [35S]TBPS were affected by chronic treatment with ethanol or its withdrawal at 24 h. These results suggest that the sensitivity of benzodiazepine and picrotoxin sites on the oligomeric GABA receptor complex is not affected during tolerance to, or withdrawal from ethanol. It is suggested that the effects of ethanol on GABAergic transmission may be produced at the level of coupled chloride ion channels.