We recorded ventilation and genioglossal electromyographic activity in 12 awake, normal subjects before and after they drank 1 ml of ethyl alcohol per kg of body weight. Measurements were made during quiet room air breathing and during hypercapnic rebreathing. Alcohol did not alter minute ventilation, the pattern of breathing, or the ventilatory response to CO2, but it significantly reduced genioglossal activity in both quiet breathing and hypercapnia. The effect was more consistent in male than in female subjects. These results indicate that the neural mechanisms underlying the respiratory activity of the genioglossus are more susceptible to depression by alcohol than those serving the muscles of the ventilatory pump. This susceptibility may be important in the exacerbation by alcohol of obstructive apnea during sleep.