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Do drug addicts scare you?

My roommate died of a drug overdose last week. When I found him I thought he was still alive so I shook him and shook him and yelled his name over and over. I called 911.

The police officer told me my friend had been dead for awhile and that there was nothing I could have done. I sat in the driveway with a friend and my dog as the police processed the scene. They finished about 3:30 a.m.IMG_2177

We cleaned the room the next day, scrubbed the floor, and threw out all the linens. We sorted through his clothes, photos, drawings from his nieces, and birthday cards from his parents.

A few days after he died I got an anonymous letter in the mail:

“Please don’t bring more transient renters into the neighborhood. They are a clear liability and there are children within a stone’s throw from you. Nobody here thinks it’s a good idea or approves of it. Thanks.”

My roommate was harmless – except to himself.

He came from a good Catholic family in a small town. He played football in high school and college. He was strikingly handsome but hadn’t a clue. He was the prom king in middle and high school. He was old school – said “Yes ma’am,” and opened the door for a lady.

At his wake, hundreds of friends waited in line for three hours to say goodbye. He was just 25-years-old.

I don’t understand why some people think addicts are dangerous – especially to children. It always seems to be the first thing people bring up during discussions about sober homes – halfway houses – in neighborhoods. It’s as though they think addiction is contagious or turns us into leches and kidnappers.

Not all of us smoke or wear our pants halfway down our butts, either. A lot of us have all our teeth, shave, wear deodorant, and don’t listen to rap music. Many of us have jobs, go to church or school. We are a lot like you, except we have a disease of the brain called addiction.

For about a year I have rented a bedroom in my house to kids who have come to south Florida to get clean. I am very selective – the person must have a year clean, work a program, go to meetings, and have a job. Most are kids I met at my CrossFit gym. These are kids who have discipline and determination.

One kid was a professional athlete who went to a prestigious New England boarding school and college. One woman started her own business. The young man who died had moved in six weeks earlier and was still coming to terms with the fact that he could have a life beyond his wildest dreams as long as he didn’t pick up.

When these kids move out of a halfway house, they don’t have a clue where to find a safe neighborhood. They also need to find a safe roommate. My goal is to help them save some money and get back on their feet. I charge a little rent – handouts are not what they need. Their time with me gives them that time.

I think I know the neighbors who sent me the letter. They walk their dog by my house everyday. Some people think I should confront them. One said I should plant a sign in my yard that says:  ROOM TO RENT – no biggots, racists or NIMBY’s need apply. Addicts welcome. Call 800-Love.

I’ve decided to be nice – really, really nice – which I’m hoping will make them feel like crap.

Here is the thing: My neighbors are not unique. A whole lot of people think addicts and alcoholics are bad people but the pretend to be all open-minded and accepting. But move an addict or alcoholic next door and their opinion changes.

So, here’s an idea: Instead of freaking out and gossiping about a halfway house and what might or might not be going on in there, make a batch of chocolate chip cookies, knock on the door, and introduce yourself – just like you would to any other new neighbor.

This will accomplish a couple of things: Make you look like a kind human being; Give you a reason – besides being nosy – to go over and knock on the door when you think there are some shenanigans going on. “Hey, just want to make sure everything is okay.”

It’s going to take both sides to combat this stigma: Addicts have to stop behaving like addicts, and neighbors need to start behaving like neighbors. We need every tool we can get our hands on to fight this drug epidemic.

Do drug addicts scare you?

Christine Stapleton

Christine Stapleton has been a journalist for 35 years. She is now an investigative reporter for The Palm Beach Post. In 2006, began writing a blog for PsychCentral called Depression on My Mind. Her latest blog, Addiction Matters, draws on her 19 years of sobriety and her coverage of the drug treatment industry in South Florida.

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APA Reference
Stapleton, C. (2016). Do drug addicts scare you?. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 25, 2019, from


Last updated: 27 Apr 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 27 Apr 2016
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