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  #1  
Old 03-08-2006, 01:09 PM
whole bean whole bean is offline
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Alcoholism and divorce: the morality of divorcing an alcoholic

We've all heard it, "alcoholism is a disease." If this truly be the case (i.e. if "disease" is not being employed metaphorically), if alcoholism is a disease, then I submit that divorcing an alcoholic because of his or her aclcoholism is not unlike divorcing a cancer sufferer because of his or her cancer. In each instance, you are divorcing the diseased because of the disease. Am I wrong? If not, could we then agree that applying mainstream Chrisitan morality*, such divorce is immoral?

Initialy, I wanted to frame this debate more broadly in terms addiciton so that we could inlcude all the common forms of chemical dependency that lead to divorce, but I was afraid that we could veer off into things like sex addiction or into mental illness -- not that there isn't a debate regarding the morality of divorcing a sex addict or someone with a mental illness -- but I decided to limit it to alcoholism.

I started this debate after hearing a talk radio host (Sean Hannity) cite addiction/substance abuse as a valid reason for seeking a divorce. I have heard addiciton, along with physical abuse and infedelity, cited by another otherwise pro-marriage commentator** as a valid reason for seeking a divorce. Together, I've heard this trifecta called "the three A's: addicition, abuse, adultery." This got me thinking, certainly these folks would never advocate disolving a marriage over other sorts of illness, what sets alcoholism apart. The answer could very well be that these folks don't view alcoholism as a disease. If this is the case, why?

* loaded language I know, but I don't want to limit this to a discussion of fundamentalist Christian morality or Catholic morality, the thought being that if a moderate Epsiopalian or Presbytarian would find the conduct in question immoral when strictyl apoplying his or her moral code, then a fundamentalist would certainly follow suit.
** I can't remeber if it was Delilah or Dr. Laura
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  #2  
Old 03-08-2006, 02:21 PM
Der Trihs Der Trihs is online now
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Quote:
The answer could very well be that these folks don't view alcoholism as a disease. If this is the case, why?
Because of the American fetish for free will/personal responsibility. A lot of us hate admitting that it's even possible for someone to be coerced by his own biochemistry, or have his judgement compromised.
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Old 03-08-2006, 03:07 PM
Chouinard Fan Chouinard Fan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by whole bean
Am I wrong? If not, could we then agree that applying mainstream Chrisitan morality*, such divorce is immoral?
Acknowledging the aforementioned 'loaded language' here I would have to say that the comparison to alcholism and cancer is only valid if one says that the cancer is smoking enduced lung cancer. Yes it is a disease but one that is brought on by one's own bad choices. I realize the first thing someone will say is that 'but your born with alcoholism etc.' This is perhaps true but as me Mum like to tell all of us 'you have a family history of alcoholism, don't drink!' This may have been motherly propaganda but my siblings and I had a 0 rate of alcoholism (and Cardinal is REALLY starting to get up there in yrs! ) because we gave it pretty much 0% chance of happening.

That said I think that even a quick reading of the NT would come to the conclusion that Jesus said 'don't divorce but for adultery.' I think when it comes to abuse (and various other situations) the stance is that the NT seems to call for seperation but not divorce. But we'll see what the concensus is on the dope.
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Old 03-08-2006, 03:09 PM
BMalion BMalion is offline
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Alcoholism is a strange disease, it bothers other people before it bothers the victim.
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Old 03-08-2006, 03:19 PM
whole bean whole bean is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Der Trihs
Because of the American fetish for free will/personal responsibility. A lot of us hate admitting that it's even possible for someone to be coerced by his own biochemistry, or have his judgement compromised.
I definitely think this plays a HUGE part
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Old 03-08-2006, 03:47 PM
bup bup is offline
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Honest question: Are Europeans and Canadians less likely to divorce over alcoholism or other addictions?

I don't know whether to agree with Der Trihs or not.

Addictions are addictions. If you're addicted to stealing, I could see that leading to a breakup of a marriage because the damage it caused would make the relationship unsustainable. I guess if you want to call it a disease you have to also acknowledge it frequently leads to abuse.

If the alcoholism isn't leading to abuse (he's a charming drunk, he's just ruining his liver), then I wouldn't see the situation as much different than leaving some other sick person who didn't care to get better - like an unhealthy slob who refuses to exercise despite being told it could kill him.
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Old 03-08-2006, 05:51 PM
Martin Hyde Martin Hyde is offline
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Well alcoholism may be a mental disorder of some kind but not all disorders or diseases are equal nor are the situations that arise because of them equal.

An alcoholic is more likely to beat his wife, for example. It can be very difficult and even in fact unwise to try to "tough it out" through a disease for another person when that person may be inflicting serious harm upon you in the process.

I mean, if I was with someone who was addicted to cigarettes and insisted on smoking around me and refused to quit. I'd be sorry for them that they were addicted, and I'd probably still love them, but I'd tell them "I don't want to get lung cancer, so I'm sorry but I can't be in a relationship with you anymore."

Now obviously nicotine addiction isn't typically considered to be a disease akin to alcoholism (or is it? I don't know) but I think it's an apt example only because the harm a smoker might cause to someone they cohabitate with is more readily apparent than the harm an acloholic might cause.

Keep in mind also that many alcoholics refuse to admit they have a problem, and that isn't a symptom of alcoholism, that's a personal choice to be deluded, and these alcoholics refuse to get any treatment.

I think it would be immoral to leave someone over alcoholism if they are 1) not endangering you physically and 2) are trying to beat the addiction. If they aren't trying to fix themselves then I don't think it is immoral to leave them.
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Old 03-08-2006, 05:58 PM
Qadgop the Mercotan Qadgop the Mercotan is offline
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An alcoholic is not responsible for having the disease of alcoholism.

An alcoholic is responsible for following the disease treatment plan designed to keep the disease in check once the diagnosis is made.

An alcoholic who fails to take responsibility for managing his/her disease will, and should, face the consequences of not taking that responsibility. These consequences can often include loss of job, spouse, family, health, freedom, and life.
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Old 03-08-2006, 06:04 PM
Triskadecamus Triskadecamus is offline
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Whether or not alcoholism is a disease, smacking your old lady around when you are drunk is not a disease. Neither is getting fired from your job twice a year, and getting arrested for drunk driving four or five times. Those factors play a large role in the prevalence of divorce among alcoholics.

Tris
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Old 03-08-2006, 06:23 PM
Thudlow Boink Thudlow Boink is online now
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First of all, it might very well make a difference whether you married the person knowing full well that they were an alcoholic, or whether they hid their alcoholism from you before marriage, or whether the alcoholism only developed or made itself manifest sometime after the wedding. In the second of these three, a case could be made that the person married you under false pretenses and that divorce or annulment is therefore justified.

Otherwise, I tend to agree with Qadgop. In this respect, alcoholism would be similar to (any other) mental illness for which some treatment or means of coping with it was available.
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  #11  
Old 03-08-2006, 06:24 PM
whole bean whole bean is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Qadgop the Mercotan
An alcoholic is responsible for following the disease treatment plan designed to keep the disease in check once the diagnosis is made.
Is it then morally* correct to divorce a cancer patient that refuses treatment?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Triskadecamus
smacking your old lady around when you are drunk is not a disease. Neither is getting fired from your job twice a year, and getting arrested for drunk driving four or five times. .
Please no more, alcoholics beat their wives, lose their jobs, etc. I am not asking whether it's moral* to divorce someone who physically abuses you or who can't keep a job. I am asking if it it's moral* to divorce someone simply for alcoholism (i.e. an addiction to alcohol). Neither physical abuse or joblessness necessarily accompanies alcoholism -- hence the term functional alcoholics. Introducing them clouds the debate becuase that sort of conduct standing alone might be cause enough for a divorce (that's another debate).

* as previously defined for the purposes of this discussion.
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  #12  
Old 03-08-2006, 09:53 PM
Thudlow Boink Thudlow Boink is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by whole bean
I am not asking whether it's moral* to divorce someone who physically abuses you or who can't keep a job. I am asking if it it's moral* to divorce someone simply for alcoholism (i.e. an addiction to alcohol).
I appreciate what you're trying to do here. I think you've asked a good question, worthy of debate: if you've vowed to stay together "in sickness and in health," does that "sickness" include an addiction such as alcoholism?

But I don't think it's possible to completely separate alcoholism from the things a person does under the influence of alcohol. If the drinking has no effect on behavior, how can you tell the person's an alcoholic? But if it does have an effect, it's only fair to consider that effect.

It's open to debate whether alcoholism actually is a disease. I'd say that in some ways it is; and in other ways it isn't, but rather a matter of choices, behaviors, and habits. And I think that as a disease it is not grounds for divorce, but to the extent that it's not a disease, it may well be grounds for divorce.

At least that's my answer for now. I'm not even completely sure what it means, though, and it could well change with further thought or experience.
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  #13  
Old 03-08-2006, 11:14 PM
Whack-a-Mole Whack-a-Mole is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by whole bean
Is it then morally* correct to divorce a cancer patient that refuses treatment?
I'd say yes.

Qadgop the Mercotan nailed it exactly (I think).

Ultimately you have to be a part of your own cure. If you are unwilling to do that then I see no reason why anyone else is obliged to stick around and deal with your issues (including spouse). I think a spouse has an obligation to stick it out through the rough parts of life and help their SO get through bad times but if their SO is unwilling to help themself and be a part of their own cure why should it be incumbent upon the spouse to just stay and deal with it?
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Old 03-09-2006, 03:38 AM
Martin Hyde Martin Hyde is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by whole bean
Is it then morally* correct to divorce a cancer patient that refuses treatment?
It depends. You're looking for a universal answer to a situation that isn't universal in nature.

Cancer is a physical ailment, alcoholism is a mental ailment. Untreated cancer typically rapidly evolves to the point of death. Untreated alcoholism may bring about death, but it is almost always a slow death, and some alcoholics live for decades and decades without any serious liver problems. In the process they destroy the lives of those around them, unless they are "functional" alcoholics. If they are truly alcoholics who can be intoxicated all the time but suffer no adverse effects, then I don't see why it would be a problem in the marriage.

The problem is even "functional" alcoholics tend to have serious problems and cause serious problems.

And with the cancer example things aren't explained very well.

Is the cancer patient refusing treatment because it is a difficult and aggressive cancer, they are old, and they just don't want to live the last few years of their life in a hospital room? If so I think a spouse should respect that.

But what if the person is 35 and has a reasonable chance of survival? And is just refusing cancer treatment because they don't have the will to live? Well, that would be tragic, but yes, I do think there is a limit to how far you should allow your spouse to create tragedy in your life. Why should you stay with someone who is essentially committing slow-suicide? Especially if you have kids, for whom this would be emotionally destructive.
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Old 03-09-2006, 03:58 AM
Malacandra Malacandra is offline
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Originally Posted by Chouinard Fan
That said I think that even a quick reading of the NT would come to the conclusion that Jesus said 'don't divorce but for adultery.' I think when it comes to abuse (and various other situations) the stance is that the NT seems to call for seperation but not divorce. But we'll see what the concensus is on the dope.
You can very well read it that he didn't even say that. I don't have the verse to hand, but in at least one Gospel what he says is that "Whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery". The point being that the woman would have to hitch up again in order to live, and the only way in which you're not making her an adulteress by forcing her to remarry is if she already is one. So it's not so much saying that divorce in the case of adultery is OK, but that at least you're not making her any worse in that case.

Carry on...
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Old 03-09-2006, 06:11 AM
doreen doreen is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by whole bean
Please no more, alcoholics beat their wives, lose their jobs, etc. I am not asking whether it's moral* to divorce someone who physically abuses you or who can't keep a job. I am asking if it it's moral* to divorce someone simply for alcoholism (i.e. an addiction to alcohol). Neither physical abuse or joblessness necessarily accompanies alcoholism -- hence the term functional alcoholics.
What's your definition of alcoholism/addiction? I'm completely serious. My understanding of alcoholism is that the person continues to drink, despite the problems it causes or the desire to stop.If the drinking doesn't cause any problems , and the person doesn't want to quit, I'm not certain what would make it an addiction.

The definition of alcoholic is important to the question of morality. If an alcoholic is someone who drinks regularly, but the drinking causes no problems whatsoever , then I'd say it's no more moral to divorce someone for drinking regularly than it is to divorce someone for reading the newspaper regularly (and makes about as much sense). If an alcoholic is someone whose drinking causes problems, then the alcoholism doesn't compel the spouse to deal with problems that would be unacceptable even if the person was not an alcoholic.
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  #17  
Old 03-09-2006, 07:04 AM
Uzi Uzi is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Qadgop the Mercotan
An alcoholic is not responsible for having the disease of alcoholism.
I get the impression I'll be roasted for this, but here goes - An alcoholic is responsible for his first drink. He did it knowing full well that some people can become addicted. Without the alcohol portion of alcoholism you may have a prepensity for the disease, but really, nothing else.
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Old 03-09-2006, 10:49 AM
whole bean whole bean is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by doreen
What's your definition of alcoholism/addiction? I'm completely serious. My understanding of alcoholism is that the person continues to drink, despite the problems it causes or the desire to stop.If the drinking doesn't cause any problems , and the person doesn't want to quit, I'm not certain what would make it an addiction.
Very fair question and very hard to answer; I avoided defining alcoholism in hopes that someone else would. From this website , we get
the International Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision (ICD-9) (World Health Organization 1978), the proposed ICD-10 (Grant 1989), and the revised editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III and DSM-III-R) (American Psychiatric Association 1980, 1987), have incorporated the concept of the alcohol dependence syndrome. This term was introduced by Edwards and Gross (1976), who thought the diagnostic use of the term "alcoholism" was overinclusive and influenced by the normative concept of disease (that is, the concept of disease as influenced by prevailing social mores and values). In contrast, the concept of alcohol dependence syndrome is based on a more specific formulation that a clinical phenomenon, distinct from but not mutually exclusive of alcohol-related disabilities(4), can be recognized and exists in degrees of severity. According to Edwards and Gross (1976), the alcohol dependence syndrome is defined by the following seven criteria:

* narrowing of the drinking repertoire (involving the establishment of daily drinking patterns and selective choices of alcoholic beverages)

* salience of alchol-seeking behavior

* increased tolerance to alcohol's effects

* repeated withdrawal symptoms

* drinking to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms

* subjective awareness of a compulsion to drink

* reinstatement of established drinking patterns following a period of abstinence.

These seven characteristics of alcohol dependence lie at the heart of all currently used and proposed diagnostic criteria.
So, someone who is compelled to stay constantly intoxicated while waking would definitely qualify, but after that it gets fuzzy. Someone who drinks everyday wouldn't necessarily qualify -- I recall a doctor advising my stepfather to have a glass of red wine every day. I guess it comes to frequency, amount and compulsion.
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Old 03-09-2006, 12:09 PM
Qadgop the Mercotan Qadgop the Mercotan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by whole bean
I guess it comes to frequency, amount and compulsion.
Even more important is continued drinking even after negative consequences of enough magnitude which would seem to a reasonable person to strongly suggest not drinking anymore.
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Old 03-09-2006, 01:22 PM
Vlad/Igor Vlad/Igor is offline
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For a long time, alcoholism was diagnosed by behavior. It has only been recently that molecular studies have found that single-point mutations in some alcohol dehydrogenase subtypes (that break down ethanol) can make alcoholism more likely. That does not completely remove the behavioral part, as many have seen the propensity toward alcoholism run in families. I think that there is also a personality component that is inherited that makes a person less able to control addictive, impulsive behavior. So, there is evidence that there is a psychological as well as a biochemical cause for alcoholism.

In my mind, it is questionably ethical to divorce based on biochemistry you don't like, simply because we don't have control over our biochemical makeup. As sentient beings capable of abstraction, we can adopt behavior that avoids those problems, but we can't deny who we are on a biological level. Along those lines, divorcing someone whith a family history of alcoholism would also be questionable, as they may have inherited personality traits that make addictive behavior more likely, something they don't have much control over either.

There is no doubt that alcoholism has a negative effect on relationships regardless of the root cause and the alcoholic's awareness of the problem. Despite that, is it ethical to require or obligate the non-alcoholic to stay in a dysfunctional relationship? If the alcoholic makes no attempt to seek help and do what is necessary to stop addictive behaviors, I would say that they have given up their ethical right to the relationship, and the partner can act ethically to leave. For me, the health of the relationship is ultimately the deciding factor, and a relationship in name only with little or no chance of being restored doesn't have the same ethical requirements as a reciprocal, loving relationship.

Vlad/Igor
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Old 03-09-2006, 02:47 PM
spazattak spazattak is offline
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Alcoholism is not a disease. It is a symptom of a personality trait/potential problem. Calling it a disease is a societal problem. Its a method for people to escape personal responsibility. I dare you to tell someone who has recovered from cancer, that someone recovering from alcoholism is in the same boat that they're in. Wether or not it is a valid 'moral' reason for divorce would be entirely up to the people involved. Morals are relative afterall.
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Old 03-09-2006, 04:34 PM
whole bean whole bean is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by spazattak
Morals are relative afterall.
which is why for the purposes of this debate they were defined.
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  #23  
Old 03-09-2006, 04:42 PM
Guinastasia Guinastasia is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by spazattak
Alcoholism is not a disease. It is a symptom of a personality trait/potential problem. Calling it a disease is a societal problem. Its a method for people to escape personal responsibility. I dare you to tell someone who has recovered from cancer, that someone recovering from alcoholism is in the same boat that they're in. Wether or not it is a valid 'moral' reason for divorce would be entirely up to the people involved. Morals are relative afterall.
The potential for addiction is a disease, though. It's not a disease like cancer, but more along the lines of oh, say clinical depression or obsessive compulsive disorder. It's a mental illness, then, rather than a physical, but it's still there.
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Old 03-09-2006, 04:51 PM
whole bean whole bean is offline
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I think I am correct in stating that a person could exhibit every single "sympton" identified in the definition I cited and still be doing nothing more than slowly dying (and aren't we all doing that any way?).

For example, one could:

drink only light beer every evening at home (narrowing of the drinking repertoire (involving the establishment of daily drinking patterns and selective choices of alcoholic beverages))

prefer social settings where alcohol is present (salience of alcohol-seeking behavior)

be capable of drinking 6 plus beers with little visible effect (increased tolerance to alcohol's effects)

suffer the day with a dry mouth and queasy stomach (repeated withdrawal symptoms)

crack a beer at 5:00 pm (drinking to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms)

understand that he "needs" a drink (subjective awareness of a compulsion to drink)

resume drinking immediately after recovering from a cold, going off medication, etc. (reinstatement of established drinking patterns following a period of abstinence)


yet never be cross or endanger others.

I don't intend this to be an apology for alcoholism, hardly. I am curious in the morality* of divorcing a diseased for his or her disease alone and in divorcing alcoholism in general from the destructive behavior that often accompanies it.

and to Thudlow Boink's
Quote:
First of all, it might very well make a difference whether you married the person knowing full well that they were an alcoholic, or whether they hid their alcoholism from you before marriage, or whether the alcoholism only developed or made itself manifest sometime after the wedding.
I ask you to substitute cancer patient for alcoholic and cancer for alcoholism. Does it really "make a difference"?
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Old 03-09-2006, 04:57 PM
whole bean whole bean is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thudlow Boink
First of all, it might very well make a difference whether you married the person knowing full well that they were an alcoholic, or whether they hid their alcoholism from you before marriage, or whether the alcoholism only developed or made itself manifest sometime after the wedding.
in light of Guinastasia's post, with which I think I agree, make that:

manic depresive -> alcoholic
manic depression -> alcoholism

side note: when typing his/her name the first time, I wrote Guinesstasia. Paging Dr. Freud.
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Old 03-09-2006, 05:34 PM
Tenar Tenar is offline
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I don't claim to have an answer to the OP, but I submit that it is arguable that it is immoral to NOT divorce an alcoholic, as you may be preventing him/her from hitting bottom and seeking help.
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Old 03-09-2006, 06:17 PM
Zoe Zoe is offline
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I am not asking whether it's moral* to divorce someone who physically abuses you or who can't keep a job. I am asking if it it's moral* to divorce someone simply for alcoholism (i.e. an addiction to alcohol).
Why would anyone want to divorce a loved one because of the alcoholism unless there are questions about negative behaviors that stem from the alcoholism? For example, if the parent is an alcoholic, will she or he make a reliable child care provider? Will she or he pass out every night or disappear into a bottle of booze? Will she or he drive with the child in the car while intoxicated?

If there are no alcohol-related negative behaviors, I suppose that a fundamentalist could object to the presence of alcohol in the house. I would think that most fundamentalists would object to divorce even more though.

BTW, alcoholism is also a physical disease -- and I'm not speaking of just the related diseases that are caused by the consumption of alcohol over time. The husband of a friend died during surgery from alcohol withdrawal. His death wasn't all in his head.
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Old 03-09-2006, 06:31 PM
Guinastasia Guinastasia is offline
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Well, to be fair, the withdrawal isn't caused by alcoholism in and of itself, but the damage that booze does to your body over time.

I understand what you're saying-my godmother and favorite aunt died as a result of years of alcohol abuse. (The really upsetting thing was she had just started going to AA, was sober, and happier than she had been in a long time. Then she got sick and because her body was only just starting to heal, it killed her.)

I'm just pointing out that just because something isn't something we can test for, like diabetes or cancer, doesn't mean it's not a "real disease".
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  #29  
Old 03-09-2006, 06:32 PM
Der Trihs Der Trihs is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by spazattak
I dare you to tell someone who has recovered from cancer, that someone recovering from alcoholism is in the same boat that they're in.
They are not. Cancer is more lethal, but can sometimes be eliminated. Alcoholism is permanent.
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Old 03-10-2006, 12:46 AM
Cardinal Cardinal is offline
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In my small experience with 12-step groups, I have picked up:

1. It may be a pre-disposition that you are additcted to ____________.

2. Now you have to decide what to do with this situation.



I think this is a realistic approach. Adults try to fix the problem. All day I deal with high school students, some of whom try to just blame the problem for the outcome: "I couldn't find my binder, so I couldn't take notes".
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Old 03-10-2006, 03:59 AM
Malacandra Malacandra is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by whole bean
in light of Guinastasia's post, with which I think I agree, make that:

manic depresive -> alcoholic
manic depression -> alcoholism

side note: when typing his/her name the first time, I wrote Guinesstasia. Paging Dr. Freud.
Stout fellow!
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Old 03-10-2006, 07:29 AM
BMalion BMalion is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Malacandra
Stout fellow!

Brilliant!
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