The aim of this paper is to offer an account of the history, the current status and the future of substance use research at the Swiss Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Problems (SIPA). Although founded originally by the temperance movement in 1901, its policy has shifted over time towards one which accepts an alcohol-consuming culture made up of self-determined but well-informed consumers, while still supporting those who choose to live an abstinent life. In the beginning, SIPA was involved primarily in collecting alcohol-related information and making it available to professionals and the general public. From the late 1960s SIPA began conducting its own research projects; by the mid-1970s it had set up its own in-house research department. In 2001, SIPA was appointed a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Substance Abuse, Research, Prevention and Documentation. As a private non-governmental organization, most of its funding comes from external research commissions. SIPA participates in a variety of international projects [e.g. Gender Alcohol and Culture: An International Study (GenACIS), European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Drugs (ESPAD) and Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC)] and contributes to numerous national research projects dealing with substance use. It has also forged close links with more than 50 other research institutions in Switzerland and world-wide. Thanks to its work over the last 30 years, SIPA has become a chief port of call for alcohol use research in Switzerland. In the future, SIPA will continue to monitor substance use, while stepping up its prevention research activities and ensuring that it is able to react more promptly to emerging phenomena.