Syrian Golden hamsters prefer and consume large and remarkably constant amounts of ethanol in a simple two-bottle free-choice regimen. Ethanol intake is significantly suppressed by zimelidine, bromocriptine, buspirone, and lithium carbonate, pharmacological agents that have been shown to be beneficial in controlling ethanol intake in alcohol-dependent humans. These results suggest that this ethanol-drinking animal model has high "predictive validity" and can be used effectively in the search for and identification of new agents for the treatment of alcohol abuse. The model has enabled us to confirm the putative antidipsotropic effect of Radix puerariae (RP), an herb long used in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of patients who abuse alcohol. A crude extract of RP at a dose of 1.5 g.kg-1 x day-1 significantly suppresses (> 50%) the free-choice ethanol intake of Golden hamsters. Moreover, two major constituents of RP, daidzein (4',7-dihydroxyisoflavone) and daidzin (the 7-glucoside of daidzein), were also shown to suppress free-choice ethanol intake. Daidzin and daidzein, at doses of 150 and 230 mg.kg-1 x day-1, respectively, suppress ethanol intake by > 50%. RP, daidzein, and daidzin treatment do not significantly affect the body weight and water or food intake of the hamsters. These findings identify a class of compounds that offer promise as safe and effective therapeutic agents for alcohol abuse.