Western Michigan University's Specialty Program in Alcohol and Drug Abuse (SPADA) was officially established in 1973. SPADA began as a graduate specialty program, but later was designated as a certificate program in accordance with University policy.

The program was first conceived by the late George Mallinson, then dean of the Graduate College, who also was instrumental in developing WMU's Blindness and Low Vision Studies and Physician Assistant departments. Ever the entrepreneur, he was able to sense where the priorities for federal funding were moving and be early in line to ensure that WMU was among the recipients—and therefore in a position to create first-class programs.

Today, in addition to the graduate certificate, SPADA offers an undergraduate minor. The certificate program is available at regional locations across Michigan, and distance education is a primary option in its presentation. SPADA attracts many external contracts, totaling millions of dollars, and is considered the premier educational vehicle for treating prisoners and parolees throughout the state.