This week we should all take time to remember someone who played a very important role in how the public views addiction. Dr. Morris E. Chafetz played a major role changing the public’s perception; alcoholism went from being a moral failing and social crime to the disease model we know today as a result of his efforts. The general public has a hard time wrapping their head around the idea that someone cannot stop doing something even if it is killing them which is why there is a huge social stigma surrounding the disease.
Dr. Chafetz (pronounced CHAFE-etz), the first director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, had never planned to work in the field of drug and alcohol abuse and yet he became a leading spokesman for the problems of alcoholism and its treatment. When Chafetz finished his training as a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in 1954, there wasn’t any work available for him at the time; however, the state had recently allocated funding for an alcohol treatment center, so reluctantly he took a job that no other psychiatrist would take.
“I did not think much of alcoholic people,” he told the journal Alcohol Health and Research World in 1995. “I did not like them; I just was not the least bit interested in them”. Chafetz’s opinion quickly changed. “It only took me a few months of listening to these patients to recognize my prejudices and the prejudices of others,” he said. “I realized that this issue reflected every social health policy problem being faced by the country.”
Chafetz was 87 when he committed suicide, his wife of more than 60 years died the previous day at an assisted-living facility in Bethesda she was 86.
The Dr’s books include:
“Liquor: The Servant of Man” (1965)
“Why Drinking Can Be Good for You” (1965)
“Drink Moderately and Live Longer: Understanding the Good of Alcohol” (1995)
“Alcoholism and Society” (1962, written with Harold W. Demone)
“The Alcoholic Patient: Diagnosis and Management” (1983)
“The Encyclopedia of Alcoholism” (1982, written with Robert O’Brien)