The increased incidence of drowsiness in hypoalbuminemic patients administered diazepam and more rapid clearance of tolbutamide in cirrhotics may be due to changes in plasma protein binding. The binding of diazepam and tolbutamide was studied by equilibrium dialysis at 37degreesC over a total drug concentration range of 1 to 10 mug/ml and 50 to 300 mug/ml, respectively, in plasma from 21 normal and 14 alcoholic subjects. At 1 mug/ml, diazepam plasma protein binding (+/- S.D.) was 98.5+/-0.4 per cent in normals and 97.8+/-1.2 per cent in alcoholics; at 100 mug/ml, tolbutamide binding was 97.8+/-0.3 per cent in normals and 95.1+/-4.2 per cent in alcoholics. For both agents at all concentrations, the binding to plasma from alcoholics was significantly decreased (P less than 0.01-less than 0.02). The extent of binding of both drugs was dependent on the albumin concentration. These findings suggest that important changes in pharmacologic effect, distribution, and clearance of diazepam and tolbutamide can be anticipated in alcoholics with hypoalbuminemia.