Three years ago, when Rachel* got her freshman dorm assignment in the mail, the New Jersey teen excitedly logged on to Facebook to look up her new college roommate, Eleanor*. “She definitely seemed like that perfect, blonde, athletic, popular girl,” says Rachel, now 20.
But just a few weeks into their first semester, Eleanor, who had been recruited for the school’s soccer team, quit the sport when practice sessions interfered with her ability to party. Still, Rachel says she didn’t think Eleanor had a serious problem until the start of their sophomore year. “She’d go out a lot and get way more drunk than anyone else,” Rachel recalls. It also became difficult to be her roommate. “If we all went out, I’d go back to my room and go to sleep, and then she’d come in hours later with a guy — or just drunk and angry.” Rachel and her friends tried to talk to Eleanor several times about her drinking, but they couldn’t get through to her. Rachel says they didn’t know what to do.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 23.5 million people ages 12 or older needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol abuse problem in 2009 — and that counts only those who sought professional help. Far more struggle with addiction issues in private. “Addiction is so common that, unfortunately, you could say it’s normal,” says psychologist and substance abuse specialist Patricia O’Gorman, Ph.D. “More kids are dealing with it in their lives than not.” And while chemical dependency takes an obvious toll on those struggling with it, it also affects everyone around them. Indeed, when you’re close to someone — be it a friend, significant other, or family member — who’s regularly drunk or high, it can be difficult to know how to deal.