The body responds to stress through a hormone system called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Stimulation of this system results in the secretion of stress hormones (i.e., glucocorticoids). Chronic excessive glucocorticoid secretion can have adverse health effects, such as Cushing's syndrome. Alcohol intoxication activates the HPA axis and results in elevated glucocorticoid levels. Ironically, elevated levels of these stress hormones may contribute to alcohol's pleasurable effects. With chronic alcohol consumption, however, tolerance may develop to alcohol's HPA axis-activating effects. Chronic alcohol consumption, as well as chronic glucocorticoid exposure, can result in premature and/or exaggerated aging. Furthermore, the aging process affects a person's sensitivity to alcohol and HPA axis function. Thus, a three-way interaction exists among alcohol consumption, HPA axis activity, and the aging process. The aging process may impair the HPA axis' ability to adapt to chronic alcohol exposure. Furthermore, HPA axis activation may contribute to the premature or exaggerated aging associated with chronic alcohol consumption.