Quantitative neurohistological techniques were used to examine the hippocampal complex of laboratory rats maintained on ethanol-containing or control diets for 5 months followed by a 2-month alcohol-free period. Chronic ethanol consumption resulted in a significant loss of hippocampal pyramidal and dentate gyrus granule cells. This study provides direct evidence that long-term ethanol consumption, in the absence of malnutrition, produces neuronal loss in the central nervous system.