Clinical, genetic, and neuropsychopharmacological studies of developmental factors in alcoholism are providing a better understanding of the neurobiological bases of personality and learning. Studies of the adopted-away children of alcoholics show that the predisposition to initiate alcohol-seeking behavior is genetically different from susceptibility to loss of control after drinking begins. Alcohol-seeking behavior is a special case of exploratory appetitive behavior and involves different neurogenetic processes than do susceptibility to behavioral tolerance and dependence on the antianxiety or sedative effects of alcohol. Three dimensions of personality have been described that may reflect individual differences in brain systems modulating the activation, maintenance, and inhibition of behavioral responses to the effects of alcohol and other environmental stimuli. These personality traits distinguish alcoholics with different patterns of behavioral, neurophysiological, and neuropharmacological responses to alcohol.