Recent data indicate that alcohol dependence induces long-term neuroadaptations that recruit a negative emotional state. This leads to excessive alcohol ingestion motivated by relief of negative emotionality. A key mechanism in this transition to negative reinforcement is a recruitment of corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) signaling within the amygdala. Long term upregulation of CRF(1) receptors is observed in the amygdala following a history of dependence, and CRF antagonists selectively block emotionality, excessive alcohol drinking and stress-induced reinstatement of alcohol-seeking in post-dependent animals. Innate upregulation of CRF(1) receptor expression mimics the post-dependent phenotype, both with regard to emotional responses and ethanol self-administration. Therefore, the CRF system is emerging as a key element of the neuroadaptive changes driving alcoholism and as a major target for its treatment.