We have previously shown that prolonged alcohol ingestion leads to neuronal loss in the supraoptic nucleus of the rat and that the surviving neurons, mainly the vasopressinergic ones, display marked increase in volume. In an attempt to establish correlates for the volumetric alterations we have studied the organelles of supraoptic nucleus neurons in three groups of rats--ethanol-fed, pair-fed, and dehydrated, in all cases treated from 2 to 12 months of age. The volume and surface area of the rough endoplasmic reticulum and Golgi apparatus, and the volume of nucleoli and neurosecretory granules were estimated on the basis of the respective volume and surface densities. The volumes and surface areas of all quantified organelles were increased in both alcohol-fed and dehydrated animals, although the increases were greater in the former group. Changes in the organelles studied are commonly regarded as reliable indicators of the neurosecretory activity of magnocellular neurons. Thus, our results suggest that under conditions of chronic alcohol exposure, the synthesizing activity of the surviving supra-optic neurons is augmented to compensate for the alcohol-induced neuronal loss and/or as a consequence of the alcohol-induced hyperosmolality. Changes in the transport and release of the neurosecretory material cannot, however, be ruled out as an additional cause of neuronal enlargement.