A review of the literature pertinent to cue exposure treatment in alcohol dependence is presented. Psychological models of relapse, based on conditioning and social learning theories, are critically evaluated. In particular, attention is drawn to the potential implications for cue exposure research and treatment of an interaction between Pavlovian and operant conditioning, problems with the application of the concepts of arousal and craving and the importance of a systems model to understand physiological responses. It is concluded that no study has so far demonstrated a link between conditioned responses to alcohol-related cues and relapse, an assumption on which cue exposure treatment is based. Further, the evidence for the effectiveness of cue exposure as a treatment is lacking. Promising research directions are identified.