The ESSD was founded in 1990 as an association of European social scientists working on drug issues. Its principal aims are to promote social science approaches to drug research, particularly support qualitative and novel research methods, and encourage early career researchers. The society holds annual conferences and publishes annual books.


Before the ESSD was established, research on drug issues in most European countries had long been dominated by the medical and therapeutic professions. Social science and qualitative research was hardly represented in the study of the aetiology and epidemiology of drug use, nor in research on social response and social control. The establishment of ESSD was a response to a keenly felt need for closer co-operation within the social science community.

Such co-operation had to be international. In most European countries, the number of social scientists working in the field of drugs was (and, in some countries, still is) too small to form a national scholarly community. The closest colleague working on the same topic may be in another country. Moreover, although all countries share the drug phenomenon, there is often a lack of awareness of the commonalties and differences between them in terms of the characteristics of drug use or the types of policy responses. By viewing similarities and dissimilarities in a cross-national perspective, the existing variations in the drug phenomenon and their sociocultural determinants can be better understood.

In 1988, given the desire to establish a network of social scientists working on drug issues, extensive efforts were made to locate drug researchers in European countries and to bring them together to exchange research findings and explore possibilities for future co-operation. The efforts were greeted with great enthusiasm, and the first annual conference was held in Cologne in Germany in 1990. It was organised by Karl-Heinz Reuband, who without doubt can be called the founding father of the ESSD. He was also chosen by the participants at the first conference as the chair of the organisation. At the 1996 conference, Karl-Heinz Reuband resigned as chair and proposed that Dirk J. Korf replace him. The conference participants then elected Prof. Korf.


For most of its history an informal ESSD Board has supported and guided the organisation of the annual conferences. It was agreed at a members’ meeting at the 2015 conference that it was time to place some of the aspects of the organisation and running of the ESSD onto a more formal footing, especially elections to the ESSD Board and membership. An interim board to act as a working group to progress these changes was set up in November 2015 and prepared the ESSD Societal Code. This board reported back to members at the 2016 conference in Frankfurt, and the members present voted to approve the code and proposed changes in principle.

In september 2017 the first elected ESSD Board was installed. In october 2022 the membership voted for 7 out of 10 candidates to form the current ESSD Board.

ESSD Board members
Gary Potter (UK) - president
Zsuzsa Kaló (Hungary) - vice-president
Tom Decorte (Belgium) - secretariat
Kristiāna Bebre (Latvia)
Marta Pinto (Portugal)
Thomas Friis Søgaard (Denmark)
Bernd Werse (Germany)

The main duties of the ESSD Board are:
  • Oversee, coordinate, support and guide the organisation of the annual conferences.
  • Oversee, organise and support the dissemination and promotion of findings presented at ESSD conferences (through publications).
  • Provide strategic direction of the ESSD (including monitoring the effectiveness of the ESSD and provide direction on what needs to change in order that the society continues to be relevant).
  • Liaise and communicate with external organisations, stakeholders and partners.
  • Be accountable to the membership.

object and guiding principles

The object of the ESSD is to promote social science approaches to drug research through supporting research and the publication and dissemination of the useful results thereof.

The guiding principles of the ESSD include:
  • A European focus on its activities and the research it supports (but not to the exclusion of non-European members and contributions).
  • Particular support for qualitative and novel research methods (but not to the exclusion of quantitative and other approaches).
  • Support and nurturing of early career researchers (including research students).
  • Informality, transparency, inclusiveness and goodwill in the operation of the society and its activities.
  • No fees for membership of the society.
To fulfill this object, the society will engage in the following activities:
  • Organise an annual conference for the presentation of research papers and discussion of scientific issues in qualitative-oriented drug research.
  • Serve as a forum for social scientists working on drug issues to explore possibilities for future cooperation, collaboration and international comparative drug research.
  • Support and encourage early career drug researchers.
  • Engage in additional activities approved by the ESSD Board with the consent of the membership.


ESSD has no funding. In the past, some of the ESSD's activities (especially the annual book and some aspects of the administration of the society) were financially supported by the Pompidou Group (PG) of the Council of Europe. For various reasons, the PG can no longer offer this support. In order to ensure the sustainability of the ESSD as a society and the continuity of the annual conferences and the ESSD publications, the ESSD Board needed to take some important decisions which affect some of the principal guidelines that the Society has always cherished, including the free membership and free annual conferences.

At the end of 2018, the ESSD Board launched a short survey among its members so that these decisions could be taken in a transparent, deliberate and thoughtful way. 118 members completed the survey (i.e. 42% of the total of 280 members). The results were discussed at the ESSD Board meeting on 15 January 2019 in Amsterdam. On the basis of the survey results, the ESSD Board decided not to implement an annual membership fee for the Society. The member survey clearly showed that this type of fee was not supported by the majority of the members as the most acceptable option, and it would usually be paid by the members from their personal budget, which is not desirable. Instead, in order to sustain the Society and its yearly publication, all participants of the ESSD conferences are required to pay a ‘conference fee’. This fee covers all of the costs related to the output of the annual conference, such as publisher fees, editing costs, costs related to the editorial board meeting(s), and distribution costs. The fee is mandatory for all participants in the annual conference (regardless of whether they actually submit an abstract for and contribute to the ESSD publication).

The conference fee is NOT a conference registration fee: it does not cover any aspects of the conference, such as the conference dinner, refreshments or catering during the conference, the rental costs of the conference venue, conference packs, book of abstracts, etc. Local conference organisers remain responsible for covering all costs of hosting and organising the conference. The fee is only intended to support and ensure the output of the annual conference: printing and production costs, minimal editors' fee, and the costs for board members and editors attending the annual board meeting. Participants will receive a free copy of the latest ESSD publication.

The standard conference output fee is €100. ESSD Board members and students (bachelor, master and PhD students) pay a reduced rate of €50.