Dr. Maxwell N. Weisman, 87, pioneer in field of alcoholism

January 09, 2000|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Dr. Maxwell N. Weisman, co-founder of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and a pioneer who raised awareness of alcoholism as a medical disease, died of heart failure Wednesday at his Pikesville home. He was 87.

A native of New York City, Dr. Weisman, a psychiatrist, was formerly director of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's Division of Alcoholism Control. He traveled extensively, lecturing at medical schools and hospitals on the subject of substance abuse as a disease.

"He was really a pioneer in the [recognition] of alcoholism as a medical disease in this country," said G. Douglas Talbott, vice president of the International Society of Addiction Medicine and head of the Talbott Recovery Center in Atlanta, which treats health-care professionals for alcoholism.

"Alcoholism was not known or considered as a disease, and he was instrumental in helping to get that process started," he said.

Dr. Weisman graduated magna cum laude from the City College of New York in 1930 and earned a master's degree in zoology at Columbia University in 1931. Throughout the 1930s, he taught biology at the City College of New York and earned his doctorate in 1936.

After several years at the University of Puerto Rice as a visiting professor of biology and acting director of veterans' education, he traveled through Europe and enrolled in medical school at the University of Amsterdam. He earned his medical degree in 1958 and moved to Baltimore, where he took a psychiatric internship at what was then University Hospital.

Dr. Weisman became associate chief resident at the hospital's psychiatric institute, and in 1962 was named director of community psychiatric services for the state Department of Mental Hygiene.

Dr. Weisman later became director of its Division of Alcoholism Control, president of the American Medical Society on Alcoholism, and vice president of the Washington-based Alcohol and Drug Problems Association of North America.

From 1973 to 1975, he served as president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, which he helped found in the 1950s.

Dr. Weisman retired in 1980 from his state job and concentrated on treating patients in private practice, lecturing on alcoholism, and serving as a consultant to companies interested in identifying and treating alcoholism in employees.

In a 1980 speech to Howard County Health Department employees, Dr. Weisman tried to impress upon his audience how alcoholism was a disease rarely taken seriously. "It is a disease, and drinking alcohol is not the cause of alcoholism, no more than eating sugar is the cause of diabetes," he said. "Often, society doesn't separate its attitudes toward drinking, drunkenness and the disease of alcoholism."

Dr. Weisman was the author of "Relapse/Slips: Abstinent Alcoholics Who Return to Drinking," a book published in 1983, and in the late 1980s and early 1990s traveled to Russia and other Eastern European countries, providing governments and companies with information on treating alcoholism.

An avid cook for the last 30 years, Dr. Weisman enjoyed collecting recipes from different countries during his travels.

He is survived by two nieces and two nephews.

No immediate service was planned.

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