Male squirrel monkeys fed ethanol (ETOH) at variable doses were used to determine whether alcohol modifies levels of plasma low density lipoproteins (LDL) in addition to increasing high density lipoproteins (HDL). Because we earlier showed that high alcohol consumption enhances lipoprotein cholesterol synthesis, experiments were also performed to further assess whether ETOH alters lipoprotein clearance and plasma transfer processes in vivo. Monkeys were divided into three groups: Controls fed isocaloric liquid diet; and Low and High ETOH animals fed liquid diet with vodka substituted isocalorically for carbohydrate at 12 and 24 of the calories, respectively. High ETOH primates had significantly more LDL lipid and protein while serum glutamate oxaloacetate transaminase was similar for the three groups. Although removal of 3H LDL cholesteryl ester (CE) from the plasma compartment was not affected by dietary ETOH, transfer of LDL CE to HDL was impaired in the High ETOH group suggesting a mechanism for the enlarged circulating pool of LDL. Transfer of 14C HDL CE to lower density lipoproteins was similar for the three groups. However, ETOH at both doses delayed clearance of radiolabeled HDL CE from circulation. Thus besides enhancing synthesis of lipoproteins, ETOH at a moderately high dose (24% of calories) influences lipoprotein levels in primates by modifying lipid transfer processes (LDL) as well as by altering clearance (HDL) without adversely affecting liver function.