Addictive behaviour is as prevalent in Germany as in other western countries, but in contrast to some European countries and the United States, very little money was given to this research field. Change came in the early 1990s, when the German government started to launch specific grants for addiction research. The first chair in addiction research was created in 1999 (Karl Mann) at the Central Institute of Mental Health Mannheim (CIMH; University of Heidelberg). The recruitment of a pre-clinical alcohol researcher as head of the department of psychopharmacology followed (Rainer Spanagel). This ‘addiction research cluster’ collaborates with several research groups at the CIMH (such as genetics). We inaugurated a clinical trial network which now comprises up to 20 treatment centres throughout Germany. Like most authors, we found effect sizes of different treatment modalities more in the low to moderate range, perhaps because of the heterogeneity of large patient samples. Therefore, we concentrated upon the biological basis of addiction in order to define more homogeneous ‘subtypes’ of patients for a better match with existing treatments. Results concerning genetics and neuroimaging (both animal and human) are promising, and could move our field towards a more personalized treatment approach. Our funding has been extended over the years, including involvement in several large European grants. We are studying substance-related problems as well as so-called ‘behavioural addictions’. As a natural consequence of this development, we are deeply involved both in informing the general public on addiction issues as well as in counselling policy makers in Germany.