Ethanol is known to cause an acute and profound insulin resistance in man and the rat primarily via effects on glucose utilization. This paper examines the nature of these inhibitory effects on whole-body glucose utilization using the euglycaemic hyperinsulinaemic clamp in the conscious unrestrained rat. We confirm that ethanol infusion causes an acute insulin resistance, the rate of glucose infusion required to maintain euglycaemia (GIR) being decreased markedly by ethanol. To ensure that the GIR is a measure of whole-body glucose disposal, glucose turnover and hepatic glycogen levels were measured. These studies showed that ethanol totally suppressed hepatic glucose production. The reduction in GIR is associated with marked decreases in glucose uptake and glycogen synthesis in most skeletal muscles. In oxidative but not in non-oxidative muscles, the activation of glycogen synthase in response to insulin was decreased by ethanol, suggesting that a defect in glycogen synthase activation may be responsible for the decrease in glycogen synthesis. The basis of the inhibitory effects of ethanol on insulin-stimulated glucose metabolism in muscle is unknown, but may involve membrane-associated impairments in insulin signalling and/or the glucose transport system.