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My College Roommate Might Have a Substance Use Disorder: What Should I Do?

My College Roommate Might Have a Substance Use Disorder: What Should I Do?

Your college years can be an exciting time, full of new experiences and new people. But it’s the people you see most often that will likely have the biggest impact on your life. Sometimes the impact is temporary or mildly inconvenient, for example – your roommate is an early riser, and you prefer to hit the snooze button. Sometimes the impact has long-lasting effects, like when you meet your lifelong best friend. But what do you do when the impact is hard to measure; what if you suspect your roommate is misusing drugs or alcohol?

First, Identify the Problem

If your roommate is someone you just met, you may not recognize signs of substance misuse right away. You may attribute poor hygiene or lack of attention to coursework as signs of “settling in” to an independent lifestyle.

Likewise, if your roommate is an old friend, you might think changes in behavior are a normal part of college life where four out of five college students experiment with alcohol or drugs. However, if your roommate is showing signs that align with the definition of substance use disorder, consider the possibility of alcohol or drug misuse and seek help.

Substance Use Disorder and Symptoms

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, a substance use disorder “occurs when a person’s use of alcohol or another substance (drug) leads to health issues or problems at work, school, or home.”

If your roommate has a substance use disorder, he or she may exhibit some or these characteristics:

  • Disregard for personal appearance & hygiene
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Impaired speech & coordination
  • Unexplained need for money
  • Unusual changes in friends or relationships
  • Erratic behavior that disregards safety
  • Changes in sleep habits & eating
  • Unexpected mood swings & irritability
  • Disinterest in school & studying
  • Secretive or dishonest behavior

Finding Help for You & Your Roommate

If you find yourself living with someone who has a drug or alcohol use disorder, you may find it difficult to be comfortable in your surroundings.

If you start feeling like your space is no longer yours, or that your roommate’s choices are negatively impacting your ability to succeed as a student, there are a few steps you can take toward helping your roommate and creating a more positive atmosphere for yourself.

  • If possible, reach out to your roommate’s parents.
    Parents may be unaware that their son or daughter is using drugs or alcohol—or they may believe that recreational substance use is part of a normal college experience. Be prepared to share how your roommate’s choices are impacting them physically, emotionally, and academically. Discuss your own concerns with the living situation. However, if you don’t know your roommate’s parents personally or you aren’t comfortable speaking with them about the situation, it may be wise to go through university channels to address the problem.
  • Seek Help.
    Voice concerns with your resident advisor or campus wellness advisor about next steps. Don’t worry about getting your roommate “in trouble,” worry about getting your roommate help.
  • Practice self-care.
    Recognize that your roommate’s behavior may be influencing your happiness, health, or academic performance. If your roommate comes home at odd hours and disturbs your sleep, for example, you might consider investing in sound-proof earplugs or an eye mask. If the situation becomes intolerable, you might consider finding an alternate living arrangement.
  • Share your concerns.
    Explain to your roommate how his or her behavior affects you and discuss your expectations for resolving these issues.
  • Be prepared for your roommate to disagree.
    It’s possible that your roommate will not see the situation as you do, or even view your concerns as an attack.
  • Be prepared to help.
    Voice your concerns in a caring way and come armed with helpful information about counseling and other support services. 

Formula for Success: Treatment, Support & College Education

If your roommate decides to seek help and enter recovery, they no longer need to put life on hold for several years. Treatment at Life of Purpose opens the possibilities of continuing college and preparing for a lifetime of achievement and sobriety. To request information about primary care treatment located on or near a college campus or to speak with an admissions advisor about supporting a friend or roommate as they transition to the Life of Purpose program, dial 1-888-PURPOSE or connect online today.

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