The exact mechanism of ethanol's effects on glucose tolerance has not been well determined. The present study focuses for the first time on hypoxia and low-grade inflammation in adipose tissue (AT). In the in vivo experiments, twenty-four male Wistar rats were randomly allocated into control and ethanol feeding groups. Ethanol-treated rats received edible ethanol once a day at a total dosage of 5 g/kg per d, and the controls received distilled water. Ethanol volumes were adjusted every week. At the end of 8 weeks, we carried out an oral glucose tolerance test. Blood and AT were collected for measuring hypoxia-inducible factor-1α (HIF-1α), GLUT1, TNF-α, IL-6, leptin and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). In the in vitro experiments, differentiated OP9 adipocytes were incubated with 100 mm of ethanol for 48 h; the media and cells were then collected for measuring HIF-1α, GLUT1, TNF-α and IL-6. The results showed that long-term ethanol consumption impaired glucose tolerance in rats. Ethanol consumption had little influence on body weight, but both epididymal and perirenal AT were markedly enlarged in the ethanol-treated rats as compared to the controls. Visceral adipose tissue (VAT) had accumulated, and the protein levels of HIF-1α and GLUT1, the indicators of hypoxia in rat epididymal AT and OP9 adipocytes, were elevated. Secondary to the AT hypoxia, the levels of inflammation-related adipokines, such as TNF-α, IL-6, leptin and VEGF, were increased. Based on these findings, we conclude that VAT hypoxia and low-grade inflammation might be a new mechanism in the treatment of ethanol-related diabetes.