The mechanical and electrical effects of chronic ethanol consumption were studied in rats maintained on 40% ethanol and water solution (40% of caloric intake) for a 30 week period and in controls. Left ventricular papillary muscles from male Wistar rats were studied by myography at 30 degrees C, 0.1 Hz stimulation, and external calcium concentration of 2.4 mmol X litre-1. No significant difference was found between alcoholic and control rats with regard to resting tension. Developed tension, time to peak tension, time to one half relaxation, and time to peak shortening were, however, significantly decreased in preparations from the study animals. Velocity of shortening and relengthening at all relative loads studied were depressed in alcoholic preparations. No significant difference was found in action potential between the two groups with regard to resting membrane potential, action potential amplitude, overshoot, or maximum rate of rise of the upstroke. In contrast, the duration at 50% (APD50) and 75% (APD75) of total repolarisation was significantly shorter for action potential in the alcoholic group than in the controls. Thus chronic ethanol ingestion results in an inability to develop normal levels of force, depressed force-velocity relation, and shortening of action potential duration.