The opiate antagonist naltrexone suppresses ethanol-reinforced behavior in animals and decreases ethanol intake in humans. However, the mechanisms underlying these actions are not well understood. Experiments were designed to test the hypothesis that naltrexone attenuates the rewarding properties of ethanol by interfering with ethanol-induced stimulation of dopamine activity in the nucleus accumbens (NAcc). Simultaneous measures of the effects of naltrexone on dialysate dopamine levels in the NAcc and on operant responding for oral ethanol were used. Male Wistar rats were trained to self-administer ethanol (10-15%, w/v) in 0.2% (w/v) saccharin during daily 30 min sessions and were surgically prepared for intracranial microdialysis. Experiments began after reliable self-administration was established. Rats were injected with naltrexone (0.25 mg/kg, s.c.) or saline and 10 min later were placed inside the operant chamber for a 20 min waiting period with no ethanol available, followed by 30 min of access to ethanol. A transient rise in dialysate dopamine levels was observed during the waiting period, and this effect was not altered by naltrexone. Ethanol self-administration reliably increased dopamine levels in controls. Naltrexone significantly suppressed ethanol self-administration and prevented ethanol-induced increases in dialysate dopamine levels. Subsequent dose-effect analyses established that the latter effect was not merely a function of reduced ethanol intake but that naltrexone attenuated the efficacy of ethanol to elevate dialysate dopamine levels. These results suggest that suppression of ethanol self-administration by opiate antagonists is the result of interference with dopamine-dependent aspects of ethanol reinforcement, although possible additional effects via nondopaminergic mechanisms cannot be eliminated as a factor in opiate antagonist-induced reduction of ethanol intake.