Early life stress (ELS) is a risk factor for developing a host of psychiatric disorders. Adolescence is a particularly vulnerable period for the onset of these disorders and substance use disorders (SUDs). Here we discuss ELS and its effects in adolescence, especially SUDs, and their correlates with molecular changes to signaling systems in reward and stress neurocircuits. Using a maternal separation (MS) model of neonatal ELS, we studied a range of behaviors that comprise a “drug-seeking” phenotype. We then investigated potential mechanisms underlying the development of this phenotype. Corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) and serotonin (5-HT) are widely believed to be involved in “stress-induced” disorders, including addiction. Here, we show that ELS leads to the development of a drug-seeking phenotype indicative of increased susceptibility to addiction and concomitant sex-dependent upregulation of CRF and 5-HT system components throughout extended brain reward/stress neurocircuits.