The effects of chronic exposure (21 days) to ethanol vapors on locomotor response to intracerebroventricular (i.c.v.) administration of corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) was investigated in male Wistar rats. Responses to CRF were tested during chronic exposure, 1 1/2 hours following removal of ethanol vapors, and two weeks after withdrawal of ethanol. A greater sensitivity to the locomotor-activating effects of CRF was found in ethanol-treated rats as compared to their controls during ethanol exposure (P less than 0.001) and 90 min following removal of ethanol vapors (P less than 0.001) but not two weeks following withdrawal. These results support clinical findings of a reversible activation in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in alcoholism. In addition, it appears that chronic exposure to ethanol can also modify central neuronal systems specifically responsive to the locomotor activating effects of CRF.