UMBC’s 2002 Distinguished Alumnus

Published: May 30, 2003

A University That Knows How to Win

  Carlo Diclemente
UMBC Psychology chair Carlo DiClemente’s work has revolutionized treatment for alcoholism and drug abuse.

The Psychology of Conquering Addiction


Psychology professor and department chair Carlo DiClemente began studying addiction among smokers while completing his dissertation at the University of Rhode Island. Now, more than twenty years later, his research has revolutionized how health professionals treat alcoholism and drug abuse.

In October, 2002, DiClemente’s work was recognized nationally when he received one of five Innovators Combating Substance Abuse awards from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

“I was first drawn to studying smoking because it was a behavior that was easy to evaluate and where it was always possible to find people actively trying to change their behavior,” says DiClemente, “What I found was that many different treatments produced change equally well and that people who stopped smoking without any outside medical intervention could be as successful as those who had.”

From these observations, DiClemente, with colleague James Prochaska of the University of Rhode Island, went on to develop a model for the process of change among addicts. This model, the Transtheoretical Model of Change, identifies stages of change and other factors that predict treatment outcomes.

Previously, treatment for substance abuse was thought to benefit only people who were motivated to enter treatment on their own. The Transtheoretical Model, however, is a more effective treatment developed for the individual rather than a “one size fits all” approach.

DiClemente has also applied the model in studies on alcoholism and will soon use his $300,000 RWJF award to fund a study of the model for cocaine users. The funding will also allow DiClemente to gather a small group of substance abuse researchers and treatment providers who use the Transtheoretical Model to discuss the most effective ways to apply it in treatment.

Since 1984, when DiClemente and Prochaska published their first book on the Transtheoretical Model, it has been incorporated in the treatment of a number of health and addictive behaviors in the United States and abroad. “I’ve been in touch with colleagues as far away as Germany and New Zealand who are using aspects of the Transtheoretical Model to assist patients with a wide variety of health problems such as asthma and diabetes, as well as substance abuse.”

The continuing importance of his work keeps DiClemente excited about his research. “I’ve seen the ravages of alcohol and drug problems. To see the impact this model and my research has made gives meaning to my work. It’s been wonderful to be part of a process of helping people understand how to get from addiction to recovery.”


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