Ethanol at low doses produces a release of punished responding in an operant rat conflict test similar to that observed for benzodiazepines and phenobarbital. It has been hypothesized that these anti-punishment effects are mediated via the GABA-benzodiazepine receptor-ionophore complex but not at the benzodiazepine binding site. In the present study isopropylbicyclophosphate (IPPO), which binds at the picrotoxinin site, reversed the release of punished responding produced by ethanol, pentobarbital and chlordiazepoxide; at low doses IPPO (less than 10 micrograms/kg) appeared to be most effective against ethanol but at higher doses (greater than 15 micrograms/kg) was also effective against pentobarbital and chlordiazepoxide. At still higher doses IPPO produced a decrease in punished and unpunished responding. These results suggest that the "anxiolytic" actions of ethanol may involve a direct action on the GABA-benzodiazepine receptor-ionophore complex and this action may underlie some of the intoxicating effects of ethanol.