Looking Back on 35 Years: NAADAC's History Reflects the Establishment of a Professional Identity for Addiction Counseling

By Kuehn, Donovan | Addiction Professional, July-August 2007 | Go to article overview

Looking Back on 35 Years: NAADAC's History Reflects the Establishment of a Professional Identity for Addiction Counseling


Kuehn, Donovan, Addiction Professional


Celebrating its 35th anniversary, NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals is one of the oldest addiction-focused professional associations in the United States. With more than 11,000 members and affiliates throughout the U.S. and the world, NAADAC is poised to continue its growth and influence.

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Certainly there was a time when there were many doubts about whether NAADAC specifically and the addiction services profession in general would flourish. William White's article in this special NAADAC anniversary issue chronicles the pre-NAADAC history of the counseling profession (see page 30). We begin here in the 1970s, as the professionalization of the addiction treatment movement (fueled by insurance reimbursement and an expansion of treatment programs (1)) generated momentum for a new organization.

In the spring of 1971, the U.S. media began to run stories about drug use in the armed forces in Vietnam. While this was news to the American public, it was not to the Defense Department. Since 1968, military leaders had identified widespread use of marijuana among the troops. When 930 returning troops passing through the Oakland, California, Army Terminal filled out an anonymous questionnaire concerning drug use, 16 percent admitted having used heroin at least once in the past 30 days, with just under 10 percent claiming repeated use and 4.2 percent reporting daily use in the past month. (2)

An influential person who was motivated into action at the time was Sen. Harold Hughes of Iowa. Elected in 1968, Hughes was known for his Christian faith and his commitment to addiction issues stemming from his experience as a recovering alcoholic. (3) Hughes persuaded the chairman of the Senate's Labor and Public Welfare Committee to establish a Special Subcommittee on Alcoholism and Narcotics, chaired by Hughes himself.

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Hughes spearheaded two key pieces of legislation: a 1970 act that recognized alcohol abuse and alcoholism as major public health problems and created the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, (4) and the 1974 legislation that created the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Hughes considered the 1970 legislation, known as the Comprehensive Act, a "major milestone" in the nation's efforts to deal with alcohol issues, as it would "help millions of alcoholics recover and save thousands of lives on highways, reduce crime, decrease the welfare rolls, and cut down the appalling economic waste from alcoholism." (3)

An organization is born

Recognizing that the legislation passed in the early 1970s would increase demand for qualified and professional addiction services personnel, addiction counselors came together to establish the National Association of Alcoholism Counselors and Trainers (NAACT) in 1972. At the founding meeting, Matt Rose, who had been involved in shaping the 1970 federal legislation, was selected to serve as the organization's executive director. Robert Dorris was elected as NAACT's first president. Shortly thereafter, many members became less comfortable with the appellation "trainers." At the 1974 conference, members renamed the organization the National Association of Alcoholism Counselors.

As NAAC membership grew, leaders recognized that the group needed to become more formal in its structure and adopt stricter professional guidelines. In 1977 in Kansas City, Missouri, 93 delegates from 27 states joined to establish a new organization with a set of bylaws, a code of ethics, a new executive board, and 6,000 members. At this meeting, Mel Schulstad, a former Air Force officer, founder and president of the Virginia Association of Alcoholism Counselors, and NAAC national officer, was elected as the first president of a formally refounded NAAC.

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Working for professional standards

One of the pressing issues facing the new organization was establishing professional standards. …

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Looking Back on 35 Years: NAADAC's History Reflects the Establishment of a Professional Identity for Addiction Counseling
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