By Christina Underwood
Overdoing it at holiday parties can happen to anyone, but what to do if it looks like things are getting out of control with someone you are living with. If you’re concerned about your roommate’s substance abuse, you’re in a precarious position: you don’t want to invade their privacy, but you can’t simply turn your head and pretend nothing is wrong. So how do you find out what’s going on without crossing a line?
Don’t worry — there are ways to tell if your roommate is in trouble, and all you have to do is pay closer attention. We spoke to a few recovering addicts who gave us insight into the life of someone with an addiction, and they shared their insight into potential red flags that someone is struggling. Here are a few warning signs to keep an eye out for in your roommate:
Dramatic weight loss
Does your roommate’s body weight seem to be dropping, or even just substantially fluctuating? If so, does there seem to be another direct cause (perhaps he or she joined a gym or recreational sports league recently)? Many with a drug addiction lose weight rapidly as their habit begins to spin out of control. And for some, shedding pounds is the goal of using in the first place. One person we interviewed described how his problem began and quickly escalated: “I lost a lot of weight really fast and I continued to lose weight, but I couldn’t stop using drugs.”
Have you been seeing less of your roommate lately? Did they used to spend time in the common areas but now spend most time alone in their room? Some addicts may feel too ashamed to be around their loved ones, and others might simply be hiding their substance abuse. Another person we interviewed, Jeremy, explained that as his problem got worse, so did his social withdrawal: “It really got bad after the beginning of [the year] when I started isolating myself and started drinking heavily almost every day, and ignoring my responsibilities.”
Your roommate is certainly allowed to spend time with whomever they like, but have you noticed any dramatic changes in their crowd lately? Are you seeing unfamiliar faces at the door or passing you in the living room? Does your roommate seem to be secretive about this new group, or do they come by at strange hours? This could indicate that there is a deeper issue of concern. As one interviewee, Caitlin, noted, spending time with her addicted friends often led to no good: “I started hanging out with scumbags, [and] started getting into a lot of trouble with the law,” she said.
Of course you never want to point the finger without evidence, but another interviewee, Alex, said that it wasn’t until he resorted to theft that he realized he needed to enter addiction treatment. “I started to steal sentimental items from my family, and that really started to tear me apart inside,” he explained. “It was not who I was at all, so I knew I needed a big change in my life. I was at a very dark point in my life.”
So double-check your emergency cash supply. Look again to make sure all of your extra computer hardware is accounted for. And those anxiety pills your doctor prescribed you? Count to see if anything is missing. You might think your roommate would never steal something from you, but a person crippled by addiction will often break their own morals to fight off withdrawal.
Frequent blackouts and loss of consciousness
Has your roommate been losing track of entire events or periods of time? Were they so wasted after their last night out that they didn’t even remember the fight the two of you had? Do they literally drink until they pass out? Our interviewee, Curtis, recounted that he would go from blackout to passed out in a mere moment: “I was having walking blackouts for quite some time, and on this particular day I was mowing my lawn. I passed out and I was basically flat on the ground when my wife and son came to my rescue.”
Even if you don’t see your roommate when they appear to be under the influence, think about your conversations: how did they explain that bruise on their arm? Have there been other strange, unexplained injuries? Do they seem unable to remember who they saw the night before? These can all be significant red flags.
If you suspect that your roommate may have a drug or alcohol abuse problem, keep these warning signs in mind. Also, be aware that your roommate’s addiction problem can spill over to you, for example, if the roommate is involved in selling drugs out of the apartment. Reach out to an addiction specialist if you confirm your suspicions, and remember that while there may be fences to mend in your relationship with your roommate in the future, the priority now is getting them help.
Here are some additional resources to help:
Christina Underwood is a proud member of RecognitionWorks, which honors outstanding members of communities.