Faculty Proceedings, Presentations, Speeches and Lectures

Event Title

53rd Annual Convention of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT)

Event Location

Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Document Type

Invited Presentation

Presentation Date


Date Range

2019-11-21 - 2019-11-24


Our careers have been characterized by wonderfully serendipitous opportunities; being accused of scientific fraud was not one of them. The study involved a randomized controlled trial we conducted in 1970-1971 with alcohol abusers using a low-risk drinking goal rather than an abstinence goal, and the low-risk drinking goal group had better outcomes over 3 years of follow-up. In 1982 it was alleged that we had committed scientific fraud. The attack received national and international attention, including on 60 Minutes. Fortunately, we had maintained meticulous records from the study for 12 years and were vindicated in four major investigations and a $95 million lawsuit. In retrospect, that experience had an upside. It taught us that science is a social process that can be very rough and tumble, that colleagues with integrity are invaluable, and that investigative news shows are primarily entertainment and are forgotten very quickly. Our careers also had other highlights. Our early research involved conducting experimental intoxication studies with individuals who had serious alcohol problems. We learned much from those studies, because alcohol problems are among the few disorders almost always studied in the absence of symptoms. To evaluate our first controlled trial with low-risk drinking, we developed an assessment instrument now known as the Timeline Followback for collecting retrospective reports of behaviors. Over our careers we focused on the large population of persons who have alcohol problems that are not severe, we did research on natural recovery (also referred to as self-change), and we developed and validated a treatment called Guided Self-Change (GSC) in individual and group formats. The GSC treatment has now been validated in 12 studies and 4 languages. Finally, we were involved in community dissemination of evidence-based practice, preventing alcohol-exposed pregnancies, and we developed and evaluated a computer and smartphone intervention called iSelfChange. At the end of this session, the learner will be able to:

  • Describe the upside, downside, and aftermath of a scientific controversy that derived from research successfully challenging conventional wisdom.
  • Describe evolution of a program of motivational behavioral-cognitive treatment research on alcohol problems to pioneer research on self-change and innovative treatments.
  • Describe how studying persons with alcohol use disorders when they were intoxicated provided valuable insights into the nature of alcohol problems.

Recommended Readings: Marlatt, G. A. (1983). The controlled-drinking controversy: A commentary. American Psychologist, 38(10), 1097-1110. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.38.10 .1097Sobell, M. B., & Sobell, L. C. (2005). Guided Self-Change treatment for substance abusers. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 19, 199-210.Sobell, L.C., Sobell, M. B., & Agrawal, S. (2009). Randomized controlled trial of a cognitive-behavioral motivational intervention in a group versus individual format for substance use disorders. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 23, 4, 672-683. doi: 10.1037/a00116636.Sobell, L. C., Sobell, M. B., Leo, G. I., Agrawal, S., Johnson-Young, L., & Cunningham, J. A. (2002). Promoting self-change with alcohol abusers: A community-level mail intervention based on natural recovery studies. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 26, 936-948.


0000-0001-7705-3993, 0000-0001-6678-5742

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