Exposure to stress often is psychologically distressing. The impact of stress on alcohol use and the risk of alcohol use disorders (AUDs) depends on the type, timing during the life course, duration, and severity of the stress experienced. Four important categories of stressors that can influence alcohol consumption are general life stress, catastrophic/fateful stress, childhood maltreatment, and minority stress. General life stressors, including divorce and job loss, increase the risk for AUDs. Exposure to terrorism or other disasters causes population-level increases in overall alcohol consumption but little increase in the incidence of AUDs. However, individuals with a history of AUDs are more likely to drink to cope with the traumatic event. Early onset of drinking in adolescence, as well as adult AUDs, are more common among people who experience childhood maltreatment. Finally, both perceptions and objective indicators of discrimination are associated with alcohol use and AUDs among racial/ethnic and sexual minorities. These observations demonstrate that exposure to stress in many forms is related to subsequent alcohol consumption and AUDs. However, many areas of this research remain to be studied, including greater attention to the role of various stressors in the course of AUDs and potential risk moderators when individuals are exposed to stressors.