DEAR AMY: I am a 70-year-old retired man. I am content and keep myself very active. I do have one concern however: Each afternoon at around 5 p.m. when I’m ready to sit down and enjoy my newspaper, I treat myself to two Scotch and waters. Then when I have my dinner, I typically drink two glasses of wine. After dinner I have either bottled water or a cup of hot tea. I’m concerned about my drinking. Am I an alcoholic?
DEAR CONCERNED: Let’s agree that you have a drinking problem. Why label your habitual drinking a “problem”? Because you are concerned enough to ask about it.
The newer term for alcoholism is “alcohol use disorder,” and it is defined as a physical or mental dependence on alcohol, even when consuming it causes physical or relationship problems, makes you feel ill, and impairs functioning (I hope it is obvious that you must not operate a vehicle any evening when you’re drinking).
Have friends or family members remarked on your drinking? Do people know not to call you after 8 p.m. because you are impaired? Are you missing social or other opportunities because of your routine?
One obvious way to address your concerns is to cut down. You could cut your consumption in half by substituting flavored seltzer for one cocktail and one glass of wine (drink it from your favorite tumbler).
A newer tradition in the UK has caught on in North America: Dry January. This is where you start the year abstaining from alcohol for the whole month. Abstaining for a period of time helps people to gauge the amount of alcohol they habitually drink, and can lead to more awareness and healthier habits the rest of the year.
DEAR AMY: I’m a doctor. I am on the front lines treating COVID patients. I have watched the cycle of fear, sadness, and guilt when I tell a patient they have tested positive. Then again, watching the family go through their cycle of denial, anger, and sadness as I give them the phone call that their loved one is indeed dying. I know I’m not the only provider who has experienced this, or the first time you are probably hearing this story. I am in a long-distance relationship with someone not in medicine. Since the beginning of this pandemic, we knew that because of our jobs, traveling to see one another would be limited. I have spent hours on the phone with him telling him about scenes at the hospital like they are clips from a war movie. He has grieved with me at the state of our world. We have a week to see each other over Thanksgiving. He would like to see his family, which I support. But he is adamant that he will not wear a mask during the visit. After seeing so many patients with similar stories of exposure after a family gathering, I feel like I can’t participate. I’m so disappointed in his choice not to practice public health guidance. I know I shouldn’t, but it’s hard not to take it personally, when he knows what I’ve been going through as a physician. I know we are all struggling right now to make decisions on what feels both good and safe when it comes to seeing our families for the holidays. But I cannot help but be heartbroken when the simple measure of wearing a mask seems preposterous?
DEAR DR. HOPE: I am also heartbroken in solidarity with you and your fellow first-responders, and with the scores of families for whom the holiday season will not be a time of celebration, but of grieving for their loss.
This is a brief moment in our history. It seems selfish, as well as short-sighted, for people to refuse to take commonsense measures to protect themselves and others.
Given your situation, I can understand why you are taking this personally. I assume that you are tested frequently, but it is a given that your potential exposure also places your friend and his family members at some risk, making his choice seem even more foolhardy.
DEAR AMY: Thank you for advocating for families to save and archive old letters from family members. Soon enough, the current generation won’t have much access to written material. Email and Facebook messages just won’t translate the way paper-borne messages do.
Fan of Letters
DEAR FAN: Many of us have taken up pen and paper during the pandemic; it’s a small bright spot during a tough time.