Life Story: UW professor Alan Marlatt worked to move people past addictions

  • By Kristi O'Harran Herald Writer
  • Sunday, May 1, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

WARM BEACH — Alan Marlatt, a professor at the University of Washington, set up an experiment on campus.

Inside a room he set up what he called a bar lab

. There was a mahogany bar, beer taps, and a two-way mirror. Students were invited to have a drink. And another.

They got drunker and drunker as hours passed. Men found their bravado. Women became flirty. Little did the subjects know is that in Marlatt’s bar, none of the drinks contained alco


Their actions played into his research about addictions. He published more than 20 books and thousands of articles.

To get away from his Seattle home, he spent time at a bluff home at Warm Beach, south of Stanwood, where the family crabbed and walked the mud flats, said his son, Kit Marlatt.

Warm Beach was base camp for Alan Marlatt’s road trip passion.

“We went to the Stanwood Camano Fair,” said his son, Kit Marlatt. “We took trips to Camano Island and La Conner. We drove Highway 9 and U.S. 2.”

G. Alan Marlatt died March 14 at his Warm Beach home from complications of melanoma and kidney failure. He was 69.

“With his wife on one side and his son and his wife on the other, we held his hands and helped him as he let go and crossed the threshold from this life into the next,” Kit Marlatt wrote to friends and family. “He was in no pain and no suffering as he looked up through the skylights, watching the eagles soar and the rain gently fall.”

Alan Marlatt was more than an eminent clinical psychologist and an international leader in the field of addictive behaviors research, his son wrote. “He was also a husband, a father and step-father, a grandfather, a professor, a teacher, a colleague to many and a friend to many more.”

Alan Marlatt, born in Vancouver, B.C., was director of the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the UW. He received his doctorate in clinical psychology from Indiana University in 1968. He was a member and president of several associations in his field and wrote many grants for the university.

His long list of awards came from several alcohol and drug abuse organizations including the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology.

Roger Roffman, professor emeritus at the UW, joined the faculty with Marlatt in 1972. He said Marlatt was quite extraordinary and contributed to his field in important ways.

“He would say that what he worked on for more than 30 years was how to effectively move people towards healthy bodies and lifestyles,” Roffman said. “His personality was quite large. He loved people, stories and adventures.”

His friend often talked about his family, Roffman said.

“He was not the kind of stoic, let’s keep it to business, professor that some in the academic world are. I think most people who worked with him knew how important the practice of Zen and meditation was in his life.”

Seema Clifasefi, a research scientist at the UW, said Marlatt, her mentor, had a gift for connecting people and creating the scientific platforms for ideas to be generated and later developed.

“The field has lost a true visionary and he will be greatly missed,” Clifasefi said. “He was passionate, gregarious and touched the lives of so many individuals worldwide.”

Alan Marlatt is survived by his wife Kathryn Moore, his son Christopher Alan “Kit” Marlatt and his daughter-in-law Ashley Rachel Marlatt, his half-brother Robert Whitehead, his step-daughters Melanie and Charlotte Miller and Iara Coltrim, his step-son Colin Maclay, step-granddaughters Amanda and Seraphina White, and his grandson Aidan-Jack Marlatt.

His son said his father spoke in Luxembourg about the behaviors of moderation, and changed that country’s outlook on addictions. His father planned mystery trips, one to Mexico and one around the world, for his son and family. He loved Ivar’s, cats, Bob Dylan music, playing the piano and wearing sweaters and scarves. He was an antique collector, not a handyman and disliked sports.

Alan Marlatt kept a hand-written schedule and was lost without it, his son said. When UW students asked about his office typewriter, Alan Marlatt told them it was a word processor and printer all in one.

“He loved the gathering of friends and colleagues and moments of peace and joy,” Kit Marlatt said. “He was the most generous, gracious, compassionate man I ever met.”

Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451;

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