A stable, sober environment is an important component of addiction recovery, but for many people, life circumstances make it difficult to find a reliable support system. Sober living homes are an alternative living arrangement that can provide a healthy environment during recovery.
Sober living homes are drug- and alcohol-free residencies for people in recovery from substance abuse. These homes do not provide formal treatment, but instead offer a sober environment for those exiting residential programs or attending outpatient treatment. They typically require attendance at 12-Step meetings or other support groups.
These programs are unique in that they are usually maintained by their residents, funded by resident fees rather than public funding. Sober living homes are not monitored by state licensing agencies, but coalitions exist that monitor the practices used within these homes.
People who choose to live in sober living homes are often referred to these facilities by a member of their treatment team. Rehab programs sometimes have formal or informal agreements with local sober houses and will refer exiting clients to them. Therapists and counselors may be familiar with the sober houses in the area and can familiarize you with the local houses. It is also possible to seek out a sober living house independently without a referral. Many houses are affiliated with 12-Step programs, and 12-Step meetings can be good places to hear about the sober living homes in your area.
Advantages of Sober Living Homes
Sober living homes are valuable resources to those in recovery from addiction. Many people benefit from living in these homes, particularly if difficult life circumstances or an inadequate support system make staying sober difficult. Most of these homes offer a structured daily schedule and guidelines for behavior that offer the stability and routine necessary for the recovery process to take hold. Being surrounded by people with similar life experiences can also be helpful to recovery, as the relationships formed are often a powerful tool in maintaining sobriety.
A lack of family support can be a detriment to those in recovery and could make relapse more likely.
A study published by Qualitative Health Research found that the relationships established within sober living homes operate as a pseudo-family, providing the healthy relationships and support that may be lacking within the residents’ actual families. This support system has been found to be very helpful in maintaining a sober lifestyle, as well as integrating those in recovery back into society. The sense of community within sober living homes is one of the largest benefits to those who choose them.
The Journal of Substance Abuse found that participation in sober living homes was correlated with many positive outcomes. Fewer occurrences of relapse, fewer arrests, and lower severity of other psychiatric disorders were reported by those in sober living homes. The Journal of Psychoactive Drugs found similar results, and reports that those in sober living homes also had greater success in gaining employment than those in other living circumstances.
Who Benefits from Sober Living Homes?
Anyone can seek out a sober living home to assist in the recovery process, but people who are more vulnerable to relapse may find the greatest value in what sober houses have to offer. You may wish to remain in a sober environment after exiting a residential treatment program, and a sober house can provide this. Those attending outpatient treatment may also seek out these homes as a way to remove stressors and negative influences from their lives while establishing sobriety.
Those recovering from drug or alcohol abuse can experience many stressors and triggers in their daily lives that can potentially lead to relapse. An environment free from drugs and alcohol, as well as people or environments associated with substance use, is an important component of the recovery process. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has reported that those in recovery from addiction who are homeless, incarcerated, or lack social support are especially vulnerable to relapse. Sober living homes are excellent resources for members of these vulnerable populations. Many sober houses are designed specifically for people in stressful situations, like those who have deal with homelessness or who have recently been released from prison. A sober living home that serves a particular demographic has the added benefit of offering a community of people with similar life experiences.
Various college and universities throughout the United States have adopted the use of sober living homes for their students who are in recovery from addiction. College can present a great deal of triggers that can lead to relapse. The stress of classes combined with easy access to drugs and alcohol present a problem for young people in recovery and can dissuade them from enrolling in college in the first place. Those who do enroll face high rates of dropout and relapse. University-sponsored sober living homes provide a safer, more stable environment for these students, giving them an opportunity to focus on their studies since the environment itself is supportive of recovery. There is some evidence that students in such programs may even outperform their peers academically.
Common Rules and Practices
People who choose sober living homes may have received varying levels of formal treatment and come from many different backgrounds. Eligibility for these houses will depend on the individual program. As mentioned, homes may be designed for specific populations, such as those being released from incarceration, people exiting a rehab program, or college students. Other houses are open to anyone recovering from addiction. Many programs allow you to stay for as long as you want, but most have a minimum number of days you must agree to stay. A 90-day minimum is a common requirement. Monthly fees are typically charged to keep the house running.
The rules and guidelines for behavior within sober living homes vary from house to house. Rule violations have consequences, which may involve paying a fine, making amends to other people involved, or even being asked to leave the house. Rules common to many sober living homes include:
- Maintain sobriety at all times.
- Contribute to the house by completing chores.
- Keep a job or go to school.
- Refrain from the use of physical or verbal violence.
- Cooperate with any curfews.
- Participate in a 12-Step program or other support group.
- Attend regularly scheduled house meetings.
- Keep the house free of all substances of abuse.
Cooperation with house rules and other positive behavior can lead to increased privileges. Like house rules, privileges and rewards depend on the individual program. Privileges common to many programs include:
- Free time or release from mandatory house duties
- Group outings with other residents
- Personal outings, with or without accompaniment by a sober companion
- Release from chores
- Visits from family or friends outside of regular visiting hours
- Decreased restrictions, such as freedom from curfew