Purpose Evidence in the UK tells us that risky drinking is high amongst those in contact with the criminal justice system. The purpose of this paper is to explore the reasons why carrying out research around risky drinking in this setting is so difficult. Design/methodology/approach A commentary on the issues of carrying out research in the criminal justice setting. Findings There are issues of carrying out research in the criminal justice setting. The authors argue, that as academics we can be more proactive in working with practitioners in the design and carrying out of studies. By examining what the primary outcome of interest is to those that work in the field rather than what funding agencies tell us academics must use, academics may engage in a more co-productive way that enables everyone to achieve what they need. Moreover more work is needed to show how this approach can be achieved both in the UK and internationally. Originality/value This editorial explores some of the difficulties of carrying out alcohol research in the criminal justice system and postulates ways that this could be made easier.