Mike W. Martin

in From Morality to Mental Health

Published in print May 2006 | ISBN: 9780195304718
Published online September 2006 | e-ISBN: 9780199786572 | DOI:

Series: Practical and Professional Ethics


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This chapter presents an integrated, moral-therapeutic perspective on alcoholism. Beginning in the mid-1930s, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) invigorated the therapeutic trend by convincing health professionals and the American public that alcoholism is a disease rather than a morally bad habit. In contrast, it is argued that alcoholism is both a sickness and a morally bad habit. It is a disorder of agency that has physical, psychological, and moral dimensions. The chapter concludes that beneath the disagreements about alcoholism, there is agreement on many key points: alcoholism raises major medical and moral issues; alcoholism is not dictated by a simple biochemical abnormality; most alcoholics retain significant episodic control; most have difficulty (in varying degrees) in controlling their overall patterns of drinking and need help; drinkers have responsibility to avoid causing harm, to cooperate in solving their drinking problems, and to make amends for the harm they cause; and self-righteous blaming and destructive self-blaming are objectionable on both moral and therapeutic grounds. These conclusions provide a partial roadmap for thinking about additional forms of wrongdoing as sickness.

Keywords: addiction; Alcoholics Anonymous; sickness; impairment; bad habits; disorder of agency

Chapter.  5292 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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