Bennett's research has led to breakthroughs in how
alcoholism in today's society is understood.
Alcoholism is more commonplace than some people might think.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence cites
18 million Americans as having "alcohol problems."
Tackling the issue head-on might seem daunting, but it is
a journey Dr. Linda A. Bennett is unafraid to take.
Bennett was awarded the 2003 Board of Visitors Eminent Faculty
Award for her research on alcohol abuse, as well as her other
focus areas, including adoption. The $20,000 award was presented
to the U of M professor of anthropology in March at the University's
annual Faculty Convocation. Bennett is the 11th winner of
the award, which was established to recognize faculty members
who bring distinction and honor to the University.
"Dr. Bennett has established herself as a valued teacher,
adviser and mentor to students in the University's anthropology
program," says Larry Papasan, award presenter and an executive
of Smith & Nephew Inc.
Bennett has been active in the anthropology field since receiving
her master's degree from Indiana University in 1966.
She received her doctoral degree in anthropology in 1976 from
American University in Washington, D.C., and has been published
countless times. She has collaborated on numerous books, ranging
in topic from alcoholism in families to bio-cultural contrasts
in Croatian communities. Bennett also has written magazine
articles, contributed chapters for books and published reviews
for the books and films of her colleagues.
Throughout her career, Bennett has focused much of her attention
on alcoholism in families. She most
often works with Americans, Croatians and Serbians. She collaborated
as an anthropologist on the highly
regarded books The Alcoholic Family and The American
Experience with Alcohol soon after completing her
"The intent of the studies was to identify significant
explanations for why some children who grow up in alcoholic
families become alcoholics themselves, while some do not,"
With colleague Dr. Steven Wolin, a psychiatrist, she identified
and found support for two significant family-culture factors
in alcohol transmission through generations. The first hypothesis
states that families who retain rituals such as dinner and
holidays in the midst of parental alcoholism are less likely
to transmit the disease to the children in comparison to families
whose rituals become destroyed or seriously altered.
The second hypothesis surmises that couples who enter into
marriage with a clear concept of what kind of life and family
they want are far less likely to fall into traps of alcoholism
than were couples who have no clear plan. The descriptions
and results of these studies were published in The Alcoholic
Family. "I try to be reasonably modest in terms of
what I can claim from the results of my research," Bennett
says. This is essential because she works on a highly sensitive
topic about which people hold strong opinions.
"It's very interesting as well as very troubling
how many people are affected by alcoholism," she
says. "Almost everyone has some connection to it."
Her work on these projects established her as an alcohol
researcher and provided her with the opportunity to work in
the former Yugoslavia. While there, Bennett studied how alcohol
abuse was treated in a communist society. To do her research,
she took a "fly on the wall" approach. The purpose
of the study was to examine effective methods of alcohol treatment
with a strong family therapy component while taking into account
special aspects of the cultural setting.
In 1992-93, Bennett helped conduct a cross-cultural, nine-country
study of the diagnosis and classification of alcohol and drug
use for the World Health Organization. She is still analyzing
the data and publishing results from that study.
"I have attempted throughout my career to conduct research
that has the potential for application to human problems,"
It was her own "human problem" that led to Bennett's
research on adoption and to the publication of her 1997 work,
A Russian-English Language Guide for Adopting Families.
When Bennett adopted her daughter Natasha from Russia, she
was faced with an unexpected challenge. Her adopted child,
who was 5 at the time, spoke Russian; Bennett did not.
"We used Croatian as our common language," Bennett
said. "They are similar languages, but they are not as
similar as they seemed to be at that time. I always estimated
that we had about 70 percent comprehension."
Because of the lack of literary resources available to Bennett,
the single mother was left to her own devices to communicate
with her new child.
"I looked widely for a language guide with family-friendly
and child-relevant phrases," Bennett says. "None
According to Bennett, language guides are written primarily
for tourists, students or businesspeople not for adopting
families. Because of the "impressive number of somewhat
older children" who have been adopted from Russia by
American families, she designed and wrote one of the first-ever
language guides intended for adopting families.
Bennett does not speak Russian, but she is moderately fluent
in Croatian and Serbian; she learned to type in Russian Cyrillic
in order to complete the guide. The adoption agency with which
she collaborated on the project, Williams International Adoptions
Inc., plans to reissue the book and tape later this year.
The professor plans to look even closer at adoption issues
in a study to begin this fall. She will examine the special
needs of internationally adopted older children who might
have challenges such as emotional adjustments, language learning
issues, parental history of alcoholism effects and learning
disabilities. Bennett wants to develop a resource guide for
families with these types of adopted children.
The majority of Bennett's work, though, concerns substance
abuse. She currently is co-authoring two publications with
psychologist Dr. Laurel Kiser that deal with the topic in
regards to family and neighborhood rituals and routines in
"I wanted to do a project that demonstrates a commitment
to taking academic and anthropological expertise and applying
it to a specific community need," Bennett says.
It's research she says is worth doing research
that will make a tremendous impact as she continues to unravel
the mysteries of alcoholism.