A direct pressor effect of alcohol is proposed as the basis for the association between regular alcohol consumption and an increase in blood pressure found in population studies. To examine this further, a randomized controlled crossover trial of the effects of varying alcohol intake on blood pressure in 46 healthy male drinkers was conducted. From an average of 336 ml of ethanol per week, alcohol consumption was reduced by 80% for 6 weeks by drinking a low alcohol content beer alone. This reduction was associated with a significant reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure (p less than 0.001 and p less than 0.05 respectively). The mean difference in supine systolic blood pressure during the last 2 weeks of normal or low alcohol intake was 3.8 mm Hg, which correlated significantly with change in alcohol consumption (r = 0.53, p less than 0.001). Reduction of alcohol intake also caused a significant decrease in weight (p less than 0.001). After adjustment for weight change, an independent effect of alcohol on systolic but not diastolic blood pressure was still evident, with a 3.1 mm Hg fall predicted for a decrease in consumption from 350 ml of ethanol equivalent per week to 70 ml per week (p less than 0.01). Systolic blood pressure rose again when normal drinking habits were resumed. These results provide clear evidence for a direct and reversible pressor effect of regular moderate alcohol consumption in normotensive men and suggest that alcohol may play a major role in the genesis of early stages of blood pressure elevation.