Although progress has been made in the treatment of alcohol use disorders, more effective treatments are needed. In the last 15 years, several medications have been approved for use in alcohol dependence but have only limited effectiveness and clinical acceptance. While academics have developed some 'standards' for the performance of clinical trials for alcohol dependence, they vary considerably, in the type of populations to be studied, the length of trials, salient outcome measures, and data analyses to be used (especially in the treatment of missing data). This variability impedes the commercial development of medications to treat alcohol dependence. Using a model similar to that used to develop an expert consensus for medications to improve cognitive aspects of schizophrenia (MATRICS) and in the treatment of pain (IMMPACT), a workgroup has been formed under the auspices of ACNP, known as the ACTIVE (Alcohol Clinical Trials Initiative) group, to evaluate data from completed clinical trials to develop a consensus on key issues in the conduct of clinical trials in alcohol dependence. ACTIVE consists of academic experts, industry representatives, and staff from the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This paper describes the rationale behind the effort, its history and organization, and initial key questions that have been identified as the primary focus of the workgroup. Future papers will focus on knowledge gained from the re-analysis of completed trials and provide consensus opinions regarding the performance of clinical trials that might be undertaken in the future.