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Samantha Felix Samantha Felix

Slate’s “Dear Prudence” Column Gives Bad Advice About Addiction

A normally wry and thoughtful advice column succumbs to some lazy assumptions.

32 Substance

I read Slate’s syndicated advice column, “Dear Prudence,” religiously—maybe even problematically. I love the dry, usually insightful tone of writer Emily Yoffe’s responses to readers’ questions about everything from relationships to office politics.

But reading Monday’s column, I was shocked—and frankly put off—by Prudie’s reaction to a question about addiction and recovery.


Here is the reader’s question:

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Here is Emily Yoffe’s response:

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Seriously, Prudie? An ultimatum?

After demonstrating for five years that he can function as a responsible adult without drugs and alcohol, you won’t even give this man the chance to explain why he believes he is ready to drink again? You won’t acknowledge that his decision to discuss it with his girlfriend first, rather than hightailing it to the nearest bar, demonstrates maturity, self-awareness and a commendable appreciation for her stake in the matter?

There are some important things to find out here, such as, when he says he doesn’t want to be sober anymore, does he mean he wants to start doing heroin again, or that he just wants to have a beer at the holiday party? How much does he intend to drink, and how does he see his decision affecting their lives? And are there some potential pitfalls that they can watch out for together?

Instead of the trite, brutal response you gave, Prudie, wouldn’t it be better to suggest your reader sit down with her partner and have an adult conversation?

The idea of “once an addict, always an addict” is outdated and not supported by the evidence. Many people who have been abstinent for a period because of addiction make a responsible, considered decision to return to moderate substance use, just like this man. And many people who have had a problem with one drug find that they can use another without problems—and even with benefits.

Prudie, I am disappointed in you, because I’ve come to expect so much better from your normally wry and thoughtful mind. Addiction is complicated. And it is probably never best discussed on a popular advice column in three-sentence chunks. But your uninformed, snap judgement this week perpetuates lazy misconceptions—and could well be harmful to your reader, her boyfriend and their relationship.