What to Do if You Suspect Your Roommate Has a Substance Abuse Problem

roommate has a substance abuse

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  • Substance abuse is never an easy thing, especially if the person you live with is dealing with it.

    Coming home to drugs or alcohol in your home, or having your roommate constantly coming home intoxicated can make you feel uncomfortable or upset, and understandably so.

    Depending upon your relationship with them, your experience with substance abuse and the severity of their condition, there may be different ways of handling the situation based on your needs, and that’s completely okay.

    While your roommate having substance abuse issues is about them, you also need to keep your own needs and boundaries in mind, too. It is your home, after all. And you deserve to feel safe, comfortable and happy there.

    Whether this is your first college roommate or a long time friend you’ve known for years, addiction is a serious matter and needs to be dealt with sensitively and properly.

    The Signs

    If you suspect that someone you know has a drinking or drug abuse problem — whether or not you live with that person — noticing the signs is one of the first things you should take stock of. When you live with a person, it can be a lot easier to notice signs of addiction and addictive behaviors.

    Each person is different, but there are plenty of signs that you can keep an eye out for, especially if you’ve known your roommate for a long time and you’ve seen changes in them recently.

    Sudden lack of interest in things that were once important to them, risk-taking behavior, missing obligations, lying, secrecy and of course direct substance use itself are all signs that someone could have an addiction issue.

    Once you have an idea of whether they have an addiction and you have reasoning to back it up, you can begin to move forward in choosing your plan of action.

    Knowing Your Comfort Level

    Knowing how comfortable you feel with playing a role in this situation is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your roommate.

    The word “roommate” can mean a lot of things — from someone you met a few months ago through a college roommate survey to a years-long best friend that you care deeply about.

    Plenty of people live with someone because they love and care about one another, but that isn’t always the case. And that should guide your role in the situation.

    Living with someone does not make you responsible for their healing, especially if you aren’t close or if you don’t feel comfortable taking on a central role in the healing process. While it is important to communicate with those who are taking a central space in your roommate’s healing process, that doesn’t necessarily need to be you.

    However, if it would make you happy to take on a more central role to their healing, you can certainly offer your support there, too.

    Addressing the Problem

    This step of the process will look different for everyone, and it can depend on a lot of factors. How their addiction has impacted you, the severity of their condition, your relationship with them and your place in life are all factors that need to be considered when you’re planning to address your roommate’s addiction situation.

    While sometimes talking with them can get the ball rolling and get things on the right track, sometimes you may need to call in someone who might be closer with them like a close friend or family member.

    If their addictive behaviors involve specific actions you need to address — such as late or missing rent payments, stealing from you or making unsafe choices in your shared home — involving your concerns in whatever conversation that’s taking place is important for your comfort, and for their accountability.

    If this is all happening in a college or university setting — specifically, in on-campus housing — you can even seek advice from your resident advisor or the student health center on campus. Often, they have resources to check in and help students when they’re struggling with issues like addiction.

    College can be an enabling environment for young people with addiction, as many people use drugs or alcohol at social events or due to stress, both large parts of college culture.

    Offering Support

    If you and your roommate are close — or if you want to become close and allow them to lean on you — you can offer your support to them in their healing process. Stay in together on nights when you might otherwise go out and engage in substances.

    Allow your place to be a “dry” house or apartment. Simply be open to talk if they need. It can make a huge difference.

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    Caring for Yourself

    Throughout all of this, it’s important not to forget to care for yourself and your needs. Practicing self care and finding ways to cope with the situation are crucial with any stressful life event.

    Lean on your own support system, and don’t take on their whole healing process alone. Do what you need to do to care for your own needs.

    If Your Roommate Has a Substance Abuse Problem

    Having someone in your life with a substance abuse issue is never easy, and it can become even trickier when that person is someone you live with. But with communication, support and understanding, you — and your roommate — can come out the other side stronger.

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