Environmental experiences have an important effect on the sensitivity of an individual to drugs of abuse. Studies of drug self-administration in laboratory animals have shown that both physical and psychological stressors facilitate the acquisition of drug self-administration, probably by increasing the reinforcing efficacy of drugs of abuse. Stressors also facilitate the reinstatement of drug taking even after prolonged periods of withdrawal. The adrenal hormones, glucocorticoids, which increase the sensitivity of mesencephalic dopaminergic neurones to drugs, seem to be one of the biological substrates of the effects of stress on the propensity to develop drug intake. In this review, Pier Vincenzo Piazza and Michel Le Moal discuss theories of drug abuse, the influence of different stressful experiences on drug self-administration and their possible mechanisms of action.