The active tectonics of Albania and surrounding regions, on the eastern margin of the Adriatic Sea, is characterized by subparallel thrust and normal faulting which, we suggest, is likely to be related to gravitational potential energy contrasts between the low-lying Adriatic Sea and the elevated mountainous areas inland. We calculate the magnitude of the force which the mountains and lowlands exert upon each other as a result of this potential energy contrast. It is likely that this force is largely supported by shear stresses on faults, and if so, the average stresses are less than ∼20 MPa. Alternatively, if the mountains are supported by stresses in the ductile part of the lithosphere, the stresses are likely to be ∼80–240 MPa in magnitude. The mountains of Albania are significantly lower than other ranges, such as the Peruvian Andes, which are thought to be extending in response to potential energy differences, and we discuss the relation between Albania and these other, higher, mountain belts from the perspective of differences in lithosphere rheology. We suggest that the lowlands of western Albania and the Adriatic Sea may have been weakened through time as a result of the deposition of large thicknesses of sediment, which lead to heating of the crystalline basement, a reduction in the potential energy contrast that could be supported by the lowlands, and so normal faulting in the mountains of eastern Albania.