Mel Schulstad, 93, a giant presence during the formative years of the addiction counseling profession and the co-founder of the organization now called NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals, died Jan. 6.
An Air Force hero decorated twice with the Distinguished Flying Cross for missions during World War II, Schulstad would lead much different forces upon retiring from his military career, organizing addiction services personnel at a time when alcoholism and drug addiction were seen as separate worlds and there was merely a seed of recognition that addiction constituted a public health crisis.
In 1977, an organization called the National Association of Alcoholism Counselors (later to be renamed NAADAC) elected Schulstad to be its first president. Schulstad and Marcia Lawton had founded the association as the National Association of Alcoholism Counselors and Trainers back in 1972.
In the July/August 2007 issue of Addiction Professional that commemorated NAADAC’s 35th anniversary, Schulstad wrote, “NAADAC grew out of that early organization when we added ‘drug addiction’ to our title. It may not seem a big step now, but it was then!”
He added, “One of my favorite memories was the early NAADAC membership, which was largely composed of recovered people who had a strong common bond that pervaded most of the earlier state organizations.” In recovery himself since the mid-1960s, Schulstad had served as founder and president of the Virginia Association of Alcoholism Counselors prior to taking on a national role.
In that same Addiction Professional issue, addiction field historian William L. White wrote an article on the pre-NAADAC years of the addiction profession and dedicated the article to Schulstad. White wrote that Schulstad taught him the heart of addiction counseling.
The Seattle Times obituary for Schulstad, who made Washington state his home in his later years and also just after his retirement from the military, states,
“Most of all, he gave hope to all who struggled with the horrors of addiction by sharing his own story and the powerful message that recovery is possible and that there is a good and rewarding life to be lived in recovery.”