My Roommate’s a Drug Addict: What to Do?

3 min read · 4 sections
Evidence-Based Care
Expert Staff

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Addiction is a debilitating disease that impacts not only the person battling it, but also those around them. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that in 2014 over 7 million American adults suffered from drug addiction.

Drug addiction can be a drain on society too, adding up to about $200 billion a year in healthcare costs, lost workplace production, and crime and legal costs, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) publishes. This does not account for the additional emotional strain and relationship troubles that come with addiction.

The Burden of Addiction

Living with someone who struggles with drug addiction can be disruptive, unpredictable, and difficult on so many levels. Drugs can change the way a person thinks, acts, and feels, which can make their behaviors erratic and lead to significant mood swings and even entire shifts of personality. They may frequently shirk responsibilities both at home and elsewhere, and more and more may responsibilities fall on the roommate as a result. Chores may be left undone, bills left unpaid, and cleanliness may become a thing of the past. Someone who suffers from drug addiction often engages in risky and out-of-character behaviors, may struggle financially, and likely spends the majority of their time trying to get their hands on more drugs, getting high, or coming down from drugs. Other activities and friendships not involving drugs become less important.

Drugs, violence, and crime are often intertwined, as about 60 percent of people who are arrested test positive for illicit drugs at the time of their arrest, NCADD reports. While getting help for someone battling addiction is important, it is also vital to keep yourself safe. You need to put your personal safety first, and if you ever feel unsafe or threatened, do not hesitate to call the police and ask for help.

The sooner you can get help for someone battling drug addiction, the better. It is important to remember that their addiction is not your fault or your issue. While you can work to help them, you must put yourself and your safety first. Someone who abuses drugs regularly can be manipulative and may try to guilt those around them into enabling them and even partaking of drugs with them.

Realize that helping a roommate and enabling them are two different things. Giving them money likely only fuels the drug habit, and making excuses for them as to why they weren’t at class or work only makes it easier for them to keep missing these things and can enable the addiction. Instead, get support and help them find professional assistance.

When an Intervention Is Needed

Often, the first step in getting a roommate the help they need for drug addiction is helping them to realize that their drug use is problematic. Denial frequently comes along with drug addiction, and the person will likely be resistant to the idea that they need help and that drugs are even an issue.

An intervention is a meeting between loved ones, those impacted by a person’s addiction, and the person struggling with addiction. The goal of an intervention is to help the person realize how their drug use is impacting those around them and get them to agree to enter into a formal treatment program. There are several levels of interventions, ranging from informal to structured, and many forms include the help of a trained professional. Interventions are highly personal and work differently for different people.

An intervention may be as simple as having a personal one-on-one conversation with your roommate about their drug use and how it is affecting you personally. Cite specific examples, and try to be assertive but not aggressive. Aim for an empathetic and caring viewpoint.

It is important to have this conversation when they are not under the influence of drugs and when you are calm and focused. It may take several of these conversations over a period of time to help them see the impact of their drug use and ultimately agree to get help. It is also possible that these conversations are not effective, and they may become defensive, angry, and unresponsive.

In many cases, the help of a trained professional can be ideal. If your roommate abuses multiple drugs, has a history of violence or mental illness, or has demonstrated suicidal thoughts or behaviors, it is important to seek professional help. A professional interventionist will take the lead on planning and staging the intervention, increasing the likelihood of a successful outcome. NCADD publishes that when a professional and experienced interventionist is used, over 90 percent of interventions succeed in getting a person to commit to obtaining professional help.

Hosting a Formal Intervention

A professional interventionist can help loved ones and families to host an intervention and provide insight and guidance along the way. There are different models of interventions, some of which include the person battling drug addiction from the get go, while others wait to bring them in until the final meeting. Regardless of the type of formal intervention used, the goal is the same: to get a person into a treatment program.

Most formal interventions will have people close to the person struggling with drug abuse gather a team of people affected by their addiction to be involved in the intervention. This “intervention team” may consist of roommates, family members, coworkers, classmates, clergy members, neighbors, and others who are affected by the addiction. In some forms of intervention, each member of the team will then draft a letter detailing how the addiction has personally impacted them, stating specific examples and sticking to the issue of drug addiction. These letters will be read during the final intervention meeting, which will be preplanned and highly structured for the best results. There may be several meetings of the intervention team prior to the final meeting in order to get everything lined up and prepared.

Team members should educate themselves on the disease of addiction and treatment options. It is optimal to have a few treatment programs lined up ahead of time, so the person can enter directly into a program following the intervention. A professional interventionist can help with this.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides a behavioral health treatment services locator tool on their website to help people find treatment programs that will best suit their needs. Call these places in advance to find out if they have space available and what kind of prerequisites are required for admission. Treatment facilities staff trained professionals who are able to answer questions and provide further assistance; they can assist with insurance coverage and financing questions as well.

When it comes time for the actual intervention, the Association of Intervention Specialists (AIS) reports that a professional interventionist will help to keep the meeting on track and moving forward. These professionals can provide a detached perspective on a highly emotional situation and work toward the ultimate goal of getting your roommate the help they need for their addiction.

During the intervention, members of the team will read their letters, identify treatment options, and outline specific consequences as to what will happen on their end if the person decides against entering into a treatment program. At the end of an intervention, the goal is that the individual will decide to get the help they need.

Advice for Loved Ones

There are several things to keep in mind when a loved one, family member, or roommate struggles with drug abuse and addiction. It can be difficult to separate yourself from the person’s problems. It is important to take care of yourself, however. There are several things to keep in mind if your roommate battles drug addiction. Keep the following in mind:

Living with someone battling drug addiction can be emotionally draining. Getting them the help they need can help you both. There are a myriad of addiction treatment programs and models to choose from. The sooner you reach out for help, the better.

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