Craving has various meanings but can be defined generally in terms of a desire for the previously experienced effects of ethanol. Animal models provide a means by which to study the underlying mechanisms associated with craving and are most useful when they fulfill the requirements for predictive validity and reliability. Craving is a key part of the process of addiction that can lead to relapse and is conceptualized as having at least three components: preoccupation/anticipation, binge/intoxication and withdrawal/negative affect. Animal models of craving are hypothesized at this time to involve three domains of motivation to take drugs: excessive drinking, negative affective states and conditioned reinforcement. Excessive drinking includes the alcohol deprivation effect, drinking during withdrawal and drinking after a history of dependence. Models of the negative affective state include increases in brain reward thresholds, and conditioned reinforcement models include cue-induced resistance to extinction or cue-induced reinstatement. Experimental psychology is a rich resource of sensitive behavioral techniques by which to measure hypothetical constructs associated with the motivation to drink ethanol. Rigorous tests of predictive validity and reliability will be necessary to make them useful for understanding the neurobiology of craving and for the development of new medications for treating craving.