Alterations in hypothalamo-pituitary adrenal (HPA) function have been described in alcoholics and in rodents after chronic alcohol consumption but the role of glucocorticoids in alcohol consumption, and the mechanisms involved, has received little attention until recently. Both alcohol consumption and withdrawal from chronic alcohol intake raise circulating glucocorticoid levels, and prolonged high concentrations of glucocorticoids are known to have detrimental effects on neuronal function and cognition. This minireview covers the ways in which glucocorticoids may be involved in drinking behavior, from social drinking to dependence, and the negative consequences of alcohol consumption seen during withdrawal which may have a detrimental effect on treatment outcome. Research shows prolonged increases in brain glucocorticoid concentrations and decreased brain glucocorticoid receptor availability (consistent with increased levels of endogenous ligand) after withdrawal from chronic alcohol treatment. Evidence suggests that increased glucocorticoid levels in the brain after chronic alcohol treatment are associated with the cognitive deficits seen during abstinence which impact on treatment efficacy and quality of life. Studies on organotypic cultures also demonstrate the importance of glucocorticoids in the neuropathological consequences of alcohol dependence.