Substantial evidence indicates that one consequence of alcohol intoxication is a reduction in retinoic acid (RA) levels. Studies on the mechanism have shown that chronic ethanol consumption induces P450 enzymes that increase RA degradation, thus accounting for much but not all of the observed decrease in RA. A reduction in RA synthesis may also be involved as ethanol competitively inhibits retinol oxidation catalyzed by alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) in vitro. This may be important during acute ethanol intoxication and may contribute to adverse retinol/ethanol drug interactions. Here we have examined mice for the effect of either acute ethanol intoxication or Adh1 gene disruption on RA synthesis and degradation. RA produced following a dose of retinol (50 mg/kg) was reduced 87% by pretreatment with an intoxicating dose of ethanol (3.5 g/kg). RA produced in Adh1-null mutant mice following a 50-mg/kg dose of retinol was reduced 82% relative to wild-type mice, thus similar to wild-type mice pretreated with ethanol. Reduced RA production was associated with increased retinol levels in both ethanol-treated wild-type mice and Adh1-null mutant mice, indicating reduced clearance of the retinol dose. RA degradation following a dose of RA (10 mg/kg) was increased only 42% by ethanol pretreatment (3.5 g/kg) and only 26% in Adh1-null mutant mice relative to wild-type mice. These findings demonstrate that the reduced RA levels observed during acute retinol/ethanol drug interaction are due primarily to a decrease in ADH-catalyzed RA synthesis and secondarily to an increase in RA degradation.