My Roommate Is A Bad Drunk, Can I Drop Her As A Friend?

drunk_roomate_slide_annaIllustrated by Anna Sudit.
My friend and roommate has recently turned into a mean drunk. Most days of the week, she’s great to be around, and I love spending time with her. But, on occasion — when she's drinking — she becomes reckless and mean. When I try to keep her from embarrassing herself, she turns on me. Last week, she said something that stunned and hurt me deeply. Although she’s apologized profusely, I don’t know if I can trust her again or if I even want to try. I think she may need help, and, frankly, I also don’t want to deal with her drunk ass anymore. Is it okay to drop her as a friend?
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Dr. Christina Zampitella, Licensed Clinical Psychologist
It's obvious that a big line has been crossed, and you've been hurt. If the friendship feels toxic to you, you’re totally within your rights to end it, especially if you don't think you can forgive her. Before you cut her out of your life completely, though, consider trying the following:
1. Don’t be the party police. Asking “Do you want to get some water?” will get you a different response than “How many drinks have you had?” Even though it’s said that drinking helps you let down your defenses, drunk people tend to be very defensive! So, you want to make sure your roommate is safe, while also giving her a reasonable amount of space.
2. Know your own limits. Boundaries are a beautiful thing in situations like this. Ever heard the expression, “Not my circus, not my monkeys”? If you feel like you are being disrespected or insulted, this is not your circus. It's okay to walk away.
3. Remember that the morning after matters. Alcohol reduces inhibitions, sometimes causing people to do or say things they would never do sober. So, before you sit down to chat, give your roommate some time. Have you considered how horrified she might feel about losing your trust — and possibly your friendship?
Of course, this regret in no way justifies whatever she said to you. But, it could it be that there are some power dynamics at play here that you're unaware of. You say that this side of your roommate comes out when you’re trying to “keep her from embarrassing herself.” As roommates, you share bills and responsibilities and are meant to see each other as equals, but if the occasional “babysit the drunk friend” duties are starting to make you resent her, it’s likely that she has started to feel resentful towards you in some way, too. If this is this case, maybe her insults were meant to push you away. I know she hurt you, but I definitely think you should trust your instincts and try to get your friend help — since she may be developing a serious alcohol dependence. Perhaps, giving each other some space would be good for your relationship in the long run.
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It sounds like your roommate is stuck in a cycle of numbing her feelings with alcohol, resulting in bad behavior that directly affects you. Then, she’s greeted with guilt in the morning, and the cycle continues. It's possible this spiral won't end until she reaches rock bottom, so if you care about her, I recommend you treat this as a cry for help. Try really talking to her about what's going on. Let her know that you can't help but question the future of your friendship after what has happened, but make it clear that you care about her and are worried.
At the very least, she'll probably feel guilty enough to sit down and talk to you, which may give you a deeper context for the apology you deserve. At the same time, it will hopefully get her to confront her behavior. We all get lost sometimes, so if you can forgive her, you have an important opportunity here to help guide her out of a dark place. Wishing you both the best of luck.
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