Wikler, Abraham

   The first American psychiatrist to construct a bridge to psychopharmacology, Wikler was born in New York City, earned his M.D. in 1935 from the Long Island College of Medicine, and trained in psychiatry at the United States Public Health Service hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1940, he took a research position at the Lexington Narcotics Hospital of the Public Health Service (opened in 1935 and known as the "Narcotic Farm") in Lexington, Kentucky. In 1948, in the American Journal of Psychiatry, he suggested that environmental cues were important in the relapsing of heroin addicts, thus initiating a large research agenda on cue reactivity and addiction. In 1952, Wikler became the chief of the psychiatric section of the hospital (which in 1942 had started accepting neuropsychiatric patients). In 1967, the hospital was placed under the National Institute of Mental Health and designated a clinical research center. Here, Wikler founded what was to become the intramural research program of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (the hospital itself was transferred to the Bureau of Prisons in 1974). Between 1947 and 1962, Wikler lectured in psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati, thereafter in psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Louisville. He is known in addiction research for calling attention to craving and abstinence as conditioned rather than primarily pharmacological phenomena and for writing in 1957 one of the first textbooks of psychopharmacology, The Relation of Psychiatry to Psychopharmacology. Joel Elkes later said of Wikler’s contribution to psychopharmacology, "His work on dependence and addiction was a model of rigor and clarity, but from the vantage point of someone working both at the bench and in the clinic, he saw, long before most of us, the true dimensions of our field" (Elkes, Psychopharmacology, 1995, p. 101).

Edward Shorter. 2014.

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