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What to Do When Your Roommate Is Being Self-Destructive

One of the less pleasant truths about college housing is that there's a chance you'll end up in close quarters with someone you don't really like. In some cases, the dislike stems from a basic lack of compatibility. But in extreme, more rare cases, that dislike stems from outrageous and irresponsible behavior on the part of one or both roommates. These tips will help you cope if you're in the latter situation.

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By Sarah Wright

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How to Handle a Potentially Harmful Roommate Situation

There are all different kinds of self-destructive behavior, ranging in severity from willfully failing to complete homework to taking copious amounts of hard drugs. If your roommate is on the lighter side of that continuum, chances are that it's not really having much of an impact on your life. But if your roommate is engaging in more seriously dangerous behaviors, you're probably feeling some effect on your own life from that, even if it is just stress, discomfort or worry.

Ultimately, you aren't exactly responsible for your roommate's well being, but intervening in a potentially serious situation could be to your benefit as well as your roommate's. If you're worried that your roommate is doing dangerous, irresponsible or potentially harmful things on a regular basis, there are a number of ways to handle it.

Direct Confrontation

One of the best things to do if you feel like your roommate is engaging in risky behaviors is to talk to him or her about it. It could be that there's an underlying problem he or she feels shy about addressing, or that he or she doesn't realize how extreme his or her behavior seems to other people. Direct confrontation doesn't always work, especially with people who are more stubborn, but it's always a good first step. Sometimes, an honest and firm-but-friendly conversation is all it takes to get roommates back on the same page. Just make sure you're not being too accusatory and harsh when you confront your roommate. You will set the tone for the conversation in how you initiate it. Even if you don't think it will work, you should take this step before moving on to other options.

Engaging Third-Party Help

If your direct confrontation conversation didn't go well, either because your roommate didn't take kindly to your seeming interference, or because it didn't actually end up changing anything, it's a good idea to try to get other people involved. Talk to your roommate's friends and ask them if they know about what's going on. If they don't, explain exactly what's happening, how often and how worried you are. Hopefully, the influence of good friends will help your roommate get back on a better track. If friends don't work, you can escalate by talking to an RA or HA, or other members of the college residence life staff. Going to your roommate's parents should be an absolute last resort, especially if you don't know what their family dynamic is like. Bringing them in to the situation might just make it worse.

Distancing Yourself

Sometimes, your best option is to get out of the wake of a self-destructive roommate before he or she drags you down, too. You can accomplish this by limiting social contact, insisting that the problem roommate engage in his or her dangerous behaviors out of your room or apartment, spending as little time in your room as possible and, above all else, not copying his or her behavior.

If you just want nothing to do at all with this person anymore, talk to residence life and explain what's going on, whether the problem is that your roommate drinks to excess on a regular basis and makes you uncomfortable, or that your roommate is constantly bringing random hookups back to your room and it makes you feel unsafe. You're paying for your housing on campus, and you deserve to be in a safe, comfortable environment. If residence life isn't cooperating in helping you find new housing, try talking to an on-campus counselor or student services employee to see if they can help.

Here are some additional tips on dealing with bad roommates.

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