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April 20: Morris Chafetz and the Nature of Alcoholism

April 20, 2014
dt.common.streams.StreamServerDr. Morris Chafetz, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist who headed the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and was a key figure in redefining alcoholism in the public’s perception from a personal sin to a disease, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts to immigrant parents on this date in 1924. Chafetz entered the field of alcoholism treatment simply because it offered him a job after his graduation from medical school, but after a “few months of listening to these patients,” he said in a 1995, he “recognize[d] my prejudices and the prejudices of others. I realized that this issue reflected every social health policy problem being faced by the country. . . . Having experienced the extent of my own prejudices and my own ignorance of the issue, I was bound and determined to turn the country around and to treat alcoholics as ill human beings who needed treatment, not as bad people who should be ignored and neglected.” Between 1970 and ’75, Chafetz founded the NIAAA and built its budget from $6.5 million to $214 million. He wrote and coauthored many books, included Alcoholism and Society (1962), The Alcoholic Patient: Diagnosis and Management (1983) and The Encyclopedia of Alcoholism (1982). Chafetz died by his own hand at age 87 in 2011, one day after his wife of sixty years passed away. “Alcohol is here to stay, and people must learn to develop a healthy attitude toward it.” -Morris Chafetz
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