About Drug and Alcohol Findings

About Drug and Alcohol Findings

Where is the evidence base?

In a back room in Tottenham – at least, the bit that relates to evaluating interventions. Since 1999 Findings has been collecting, analysing and disseminating evaluation research. Read our 10th anniversary report on how it started, and how it became the custodian of the largest working drug and alcohol library in Britain.

Findings logo was founded by three national non-governmental agencies concerned with information, research and practical responses to drug and alcohol problems in Britain. Together with subject specialist Mike Ashton, Alcohol Concern, a predecessor organisation of what became DrugScope, and the National Addiction Centre, responded to the need for increased investment in this sector to be guided by research on the effectiveness of the interventions being funded.

By the late ’90s the need to link practice with research had been widely recognised but no specific mechanism existed to make the link a reality. Because it is the core business of neither side to link up with the other, these two sectors tend to be isolated from each other. Researchers talk to each other in academic journals, while practitioners have neither the time nor the ability to monitor the world evaluation literature and make sense of its findings.

In 1999 the founders of the Findings logo project came together to bridge this divide by creating the Drug and Alcohol Findings magazine. The aim was to provide subscribers with the evidence they needed to demonstrate and improve the effectiveness of their interventions to treat, prevent or reduce drug and alcohol problems. Drawing on the resources of the project’s founders, Mike Ashton, the magazine’s editor, monitored research from across the world, identified and obtained the evaluation studies, and selected those most relevant to the UK. To make the studies intelligible and useful to practitioners, the findings were encapsulated, set in the context of earlier research, and the practice implications were explored. Also published were authoritative, practice-oriented reviews of the literature and extended analyses of key studies.

With support from the J. Paul Getty Jr. Charitable Trust and later the Pilgrim Trust, from 2006 Findings set out to extend the project by replacing the magazine with a free web-based service called the Effectiveness Bank, also created and managed by Mike Ashton. From November 2010 the service was part-funded by Alcohol Research UK (formerly the Alcohol Education and Research Council), and the following year received a further three-year grant from the J. Paul Getty Jr. Charitable Trust.

By that time the Effectiveness Bank had been stocked with the entire contents of the past 15 issues of the magazine and has since been continually updated as research is selected for inclusion and analysis from the world literature on ‘what works’ in responding to substance misuse. All these documents can be searched by subject or by using the free-text search facility.

In 2013 in partnership with and funded by the Substance Misuse Skills Consortium, the project launched the alcohol and drug treatment matrices. These distil its learning into two 5x5 grids segmented in to the major practical divisions relevant to treatment effectiveness and delivery. On these were built the Matrix Bites commentaries on each cell, released now fortnightly and cumulating into a comprehensive course on the alcohol and drug treatment evidence base. In 2014 the Society for the Study of Addiction joined in financially supporting this initiative, lending the considerable weight of this learned society to the drug treatment course.

In 2015 the liquidation of DrugScope led to a reorganisation of the project, dissolving the managing partnership and transferring ownership to founder and editor Mike Ashton. The project continued to be supported by Alcohol Research UK (which became Alcohol Change UK in 2018 after its merger with Alcohol Concern) and the Society for the Study of Addiction and advised by the National Addiction Centre. From that year funding permitted the appointment of Natalie Davies as an editorial assistant, making a team of two.

From 1 May 2018 Mike Ashton and Natalie Davies shared responsibility as co-editors and co-owners. The following year the Society for the Study of Addiction increased its contribution, supporting our most valued output – research and review analyses, combining accessible summaries and insightful commentaries on substance use intervention research. Alcohol Change UK focused its funding on a two-year update of the Alcohol Treatment Matrix, a strand of the project more directly relevant to the new charity’s mission to end alcohol harm through evidence-driven change. Natalie took the lead on most of the project’s work as Mike gradually withdrew, concentrating on the matrices.

The project can fairly claim to have been a success. The main indicator of our engagement with subscribers and site users is the number of times our research analyses are downloaded and (presumably) read. From a starting point in the hundreds in 2007, downloads came to consistently exceed 200,000 a month month; see this chart. The project has gained an enthusiastic following and an international reputation among researchers and practitioners; see collected comments. Another important indicator is the results of the site user survey; see latest analysis.

However, from 1 May 2021 funding for the provision of research analyses and matrices updates ceased, and Natalie Davies (though remaining co-owner) moved to our long-time supporter the Society for the Study of Addiction (SSA) to help develop its provision of research updates and other services. A charity with an unrivalled history and standing in the sector and a core mission to promote evidence-informed practice, the SSA helps fill the gap left as Drug and Alcohol Findings winds down with the move of Natalie and the progressive retirement of fellow co-owner Mike Ashton. With no new material being produced, in July 2022 the Effectiveness Bank mailing list – its main communication vehicle – was closed down.

The SSA’s initiative promises to deliver an improved service using multiple media in user-friendly formats, enabling more people (including practitioners, policymakers and people with experience of problem substance use) to understand what different drug and alcohol interventions entail, how they are implemented, and how effective they are in practice. Findings recommends that its readers benefit from these developments by subscribing free of charge to the Society’s mailing list.

Supported by the SSA, our searchable archive of analyses of research and other documents will remain freely available via our website. Further information from editor@findings.org.uk.

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