This study investigated the long-lasting effects of chronic ethanol consumption on the distribution of Schaffer collateral-commissural (SCH/COM) afferents within stratum radiatum of rat hippocampal CA1. Experimental animals were fed an ethanol-containing liquid diet for 20 weeks but were withdrawn from the special diet for at least 8 weeks prior to acute electrophysiological recordings. Field potential laminar analyses were performed by stepping the recording electrode in 25 microns increments through CA1 and sampling evoked potentials at each point. One-dimensional current-source density (CSD) was calculated from the field potential laminar profiles to enhance spatial resolution of current sources and sinks. Stimulation of the SCH/COM afferents elicits short-latency, negative field potentials throughout the synaptic terminal zone (stratum radiatum). CSD analysis in normal animals revealed that the synaptic currents generated in stratum radiatum concentrate into bimodal yet overlapping components, peaking 71.3 microns and 228.3 microns from the pyramidal cell layer. Chronic ethanol treatment produced: (1) a 13.2% shrinkage of the overall extent of current sinks in stratum radiatum; (2) a 37.4% reduction in the spatial extent of the sink proximal to the cell layer; and (3) an increase in the amplitude of the more distal sink. We tentatively propose the proximal and distal sinks to reflect a separation of the COM and SCH afferents, respectively. Chronic ethanol thus appeared to have selectively produced persistent damage to the COM-CA1 pathway.