Non-dependent cocaine users participated in a two-phase experiment conducted under controlled laboratory conditions. During phase 1, subjects sampled intranasal cocaine (100 mg) and placebo (96 mg lactose + 4 mg cocaine) in separate sessions and under double-blind conditions. Sampling sessions were followed by a single choice session in which subjects made a maximum of ten choices between 10 mg unit doses of cocaine or placebo. Only subjects who reliably (> or = 70%) chose cocaine over placebo in phase 1 participated in phase 2. During phase 2, subjects participated in a series of nine experimental sessions conducted on different days in which they were pretreated with varying doses of alcohol (placebo, 0.5, and 1.0 g/kg) and made a maximum of ten choices between 10 mg unit doses of cocaine and an alternative reinforcer (i.e., varying amounts of money). Visual-analog ratings of drug effects and cardiac function were monitored across all experimental sessions. Cocaine was reliably chosen over placebo by the majority (9 of 11) of subjects during phase 1, demonstrating that the drug functioned as a reinforcer. During phase 2, alcohol pretreatment significantly increased choice of cocaine over the alternative reinforcer, while increasing monetary value decreased cocaine choice. Ratings on some visual-analog scales (e.g., good effects) paralleled cocaine choice, with alcohol pretreatment increasing ratings and greater monetary value decreasing them. Cardiac output increased above baseline levels across all alcohol and monetary conditions, but maximal effects were observed during sessions involving pretreatment with the active alcohol doses. Overall, these results demonstrate (a) that alcohol can increase preference for cocaine over alternative reinforcers and thereby may thwart efforts to reduce or abstain from cocaine use, (b) that availability of an alternative, non-drug reinforcer can effectively decrease preference for cocaine, and (c) that combined use of alcohol and cocaine increases cardiac risk compared to use of cocaine alone.