G. Alan Marlatt – Pioneering Addiction Researcher


A pioneer in the field of addictive behaviors, respected researcher and distinguished scientist, G. Alan Marlatt, sadly passed away on March 14 2010. Marlatt was a professor and the director of Addictive Behaviors Research Centre at the University of Washington for many years. He was a key researcher in understanding the problems around addiction and developed comprehensive testing to help prevent relapse.


Rehabilitation Treatment Development

Alan Marlatt was considered a key individual in the development of therapeutic treatments, harm reduction, brief interventions, and relapse prevention. He often spoke frankly but with compassion about addiction and understood that zero-tolerance treatments rarely worked. He was an advocate of multi-approach treatments – from harm reduction to mentoring – to reach those in and not in treatment.

Recovering from Addiction

Marlatt’s key research, however, was into what he called the abstinence-violation effect or AVE. This essentially is the effect whereby an individual, say someone with an alcohol dependency, believes they have failed if they have one drink. A slip up that confirms their belief that they are a failure and are not strong enough to quit, the self-fulfilling prophecy that they cannot do it. Marlatt encouraged therapists to support recovering addicts to continue with treatment, that one mistake does not ruin the work done. A technique he advocated he dubbed urge surfing which he taught to therapists and patients alike. An urge to drink escalates and falls like a wave, and it can be ridden. Allow the urge to come and go which in time helps reduce the cravings and weakens the brain pathways.

Writing more than 300 articles and contributing to numerous publications, forums and workshops on addiction treatment, Alan Marlatt will be sadly missed, and it is hoped his work will continue to contribute to treatment research.

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