American Society of Addiciton Medicine
Jul 27, 2023 Reporting from Rockville, MD
Dr. Alvin Pelt: The Reluctant Addiction Medicine Specialist
Jul 27, 2023
In the early 1990s, Alvin Pelt, MD, FASAM, enjoyed his career as a general psychiatrist, focusing on individual psychotherapy and on treating schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression. When patients needed help with addiction, however, he referred them elsewhere. He had no desire to treat patients with substance use disorders.

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American Society of Addictin Medicine


Dr. Alvin Pelt: The Reluctant Addiction Medicine Specialist

In the early 1990s, Alvin Pelt, MD, FASAM, enjoyed his career as a general psychiatrist, focusing on individual psychotherapy and on treating schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression.  

When patients needed help with addiction, however, he referred them elsewhere. He had no desire to treat patients with substance use disorders. 

“Actually, I tried to stay away from them as best I could,” admitted Dr. Pelt, who graduated from the Wayne State University School of Medicine in 1984. 

One patient in particular, however, helped Dr. Pelt see addiction in a new light, changing the trajectory of his career. 

Giving In 

While Dr. Pelt was on-call in the emergency room at an inpatient psychiatric hospital in 1992 in Ohio, the hospital admitted a woman struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. Dr. Pelt soon realized the woman also struggled with drinking.  

Dr. Pelt successfully cared for the patient and soon she was discharged. About a month later, the same scenario occurred again. This time, the woman asked Dr. Pelt to be her outpatient psychiatrist.  

“I could just hear my analyst preceptor from my residency training saying, ‘We don't treat people like that. They're messy. They overdose on the medicine you give them, they run your insurance premiums up, etc.’” Dr. Pelt said. “So, I told her I wouldn't treat her.” 

The woman, however, persisted. Dr. Pelt eventually relented, telling her he’d only treat her under one condition: she had to join Alcoholics Anonymous and bring a sponsor with her to her next session.  

The woman agreed to do as Dr. Pelt asked and left. Dr. Pelt didn’t expect her to ever return. In fact, he secretly hoped she wouldn’t.  

“I was actually creating a barrier to treatment for the woman,” he said.  

A few weeks later, Dr. Pelt walked into his office and saw the woman sitting on a sofa with another woman next to her. The woman had joined AA and found a sponsor.  

“Since I’m a man of my word, I thought, ‘I'll stick with it. I'll treat her,’” Dr. Pelt recalled.  

After a great session, Dr. Pelt said, the women scheduled a second visit. Soon, Dr. Pelt’s office started getting calls from other people struggling with addiction.  

“It seemed like every person struggling with addiction on the west side of Columbus, Ohio was making appointments at my office,” he said. “It freaked me out because I didn't know how to treat them, and I didn’t want to know how to treat them. I’m an adult child of alcoholics, so these were the last people I would want to be treating.” 

Eventually, Dr. Pelt discovered that the woman’s sponsor had given his number to what seemed like everyone. 

“When she came in with my patient on the next visit,” he said, “I was not happy.” 

Dr. Pelt said he told the sponsor that he wasn’t the one to treat the people she had sent to him. 

“She laughed so hard she had tears rolling down her face,” he added.  

The woman urged Dr. Pelt to contact ASAM and suggested he attend their conferences to learn how to treat people with addiction. Reluctantly, Dr. Pelt agreed. 

“That day seemed like it was the worst day of my life,” he confessed. 


Better Days Ahead 

After calling ASAM, Dr. Pelt registered for ASAM’s Annual Conference in San Diego. There, he participated in the Ruth Fox course in the early 1990s.  

“The course was life changing because for the first time in my training, people started teaching me the basics of addiction and recovery,” he said. “That's the first time I was ever exposed to that kind of information.” 

The knowledge he gained then influenced both his professional and personal life. The more he learned about addiction, the more he learned about his parents -- especially his father -- who struggled with alcohol and gambling.  

“You start to understand why people have addictions and what they need to actually get through it and recover,” he said. “It gave me a lot of insight into my adoptive dad who raised me and had his addictions.”  

After attending the conference, Dr. Pelt returned to his practice and started intentionally treating patients with addiction. 

“I already had a number of patients that the sponsor had sent me that I couldn't get rid of,” he said, laughing. “The more knowledge I had, the more comfortable I became.” 

Soon, Dr. Pelt became board certified in addiction psychiatry and addiction medicine. He also grew more involved with ASAM, becoming a member of the ASAM Criteria ® Education Committee. 

He said he encourages others to join ASAM and get involved. 

“You have to make the connections, you have to get the education and training, and you can't do that without ASAM,” he said. “So that's why I support ASAM. I am a bronze level donor for the Ruth Fox Memorial Endowment Fund. I'm working on the silver level now. It's going to take me a little while longer to get my donation level up.” 

Dr. Pelt said ASAM has helped advance his career in every possible way. He added that he would encourage others to join ASAM if they haven’t already. 

“ASAM is worthy of your time, your talent, and your treasure,” he said. “It gives back a lot more than you give. The training, the credentialing, the associations, the inside knowledge -- those are the things that changed my financial outlook.” 


Seeing a Difference 

Today, Dr. Pelt is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Ohio University. He is also the Behavioral Health Medical Director for Buckeye Health Plan, a Centene Corporation Affiliate. He maintains a private practice, Worthington Consultation & Behavioral Medicine, that specializes in treating patients with co-occurring disorders, and has recently started a drug treatment program, The Pelt Clinic. He also consults and contracts with local substance use disorder treatment programs.  

Dr. Pelt says that he treats more patients with addictions than he does patients presenting only with mental health issues. He states that there is a big difference in treating each type of patient. When treating those with severe psychiatric issues, it can take a long time to see any progress. Treating addiction is different.  

“You see progress in weeks,” he said.  

Dr. Pelt said he encourages other psychiatrists and physicians to consider treating addictions on a deeper level. He describes it as a rewarding experience on two levels.  

“One is the professional experience of being part of seeing somebody getting better in real time,” he said. “I have patients who are now business owners, sending kids to college, buying homes, doing what you would expect of a productive citizen. To see that while you're still treating them – that’s a big plus for a physician.” 

The other rewarding aspect of treating addiction, Dr. Pelt said, is it’s financially rewarding. 

“I've done a lot better since I learned how to treat people with addictions than I did only treating people with mental health issues,” he said.  

Looking back on his career, Dr. Pelt said it doesn’t make sense how he ended up not only treating people with addiction but enjoying it as well. 

“It goes beyond anything I, as an individual, could do,” he said. “I would say this: There’s a spiritual element to this. I didn't do all this. In fact, I was running away from all of this. But it was predestined for me, you know?”