The purpose of the present study was to investigate physical dependence upon diazepam systematically in two inbred strains of rats, Lewis (LEW) and Fischer 344 (F344). Rats were chronically fed food containing diazepam on an escalating drug dosage schedule, from 1 and 2 to 12 mg/g of food, over a period of 30 days. During treatment, the growth curve in LEW and F344 rats was suppressed compared with the respective controls. Motor incoordination was evaluated by a rotarod performance test. The ranking of the motor incoordination during the final concentration of diazepam was as follows: F344 greater than LEW. After substitution of normal food for the diazepam-admixed food, various signs of diazepam withdrawal occurred 16-120 h later. These signs included vocalization, irritability, muscle rigidity, ear-twitching, Straub's tail, piloerection, fascicular twitch, tremor, convulsion, and death. The incidences of vocalization, ear-twitching, piloerection, and tremor in F344 were significantly higher than those in LEW rats. Furthermore, two of six F344 rats showed spontaneous convulsions and one rat died of convulsions. Overall withdrawal scores were significantly greater in F344 (16.0) than in LEW (6.3) rats. These results suggest that diazepam withdrawal severity is strongly influenced by genetic factors, and F344 rats are highly susceptible to dependence upon benzodiazepines.