A stable environment that’s free of drugs and alcohol is an important component of addiction recovery. For many people, sober living homes are an alternative living arrangement that can provide a healthy environment that encourages sustained abstinence.1
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) includes sober living homes in their best practices and suggested guidelines for recovery housing, which they define as “safe, healthy, family-like substance-free living environments that support individuals in recovery from addiction.”2
Although a sober living house does not provide treatment, they may require residents to attend mutual-help group meetings or strongly encourage them to do so.1
Sober living homes are often maintained by their residents, funded by resident fees rather than public funding. These facilities are not monitored by state licensing agencies. In California, however, coalitions exist that monitor the health, safety, quality and adherence to a peer-oriented model of recovery.1
Therapists and counselors may be familiar with the sober houses in the area. It is also possible to seek out a sober living house independently without a referral or via mutual-help groups and 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Advantages of Sober Living Homes
Sober living homes can be a valuable resource to those in recovery from addiction, particularly if difficult life circumstances or an inadequate support system make staying sober difficult. Most of these homes offer structure and guidelines for behavior.3 Some may require residents to submit to random urine or breathalyzing testing.2
Being surrounded by people with similar life experiences can also be helpful to recovery, and many find that the relationships formed with other residents are a powerful tool in maintaining sobriety. One study found that the relationships established within sober living homes operate as a pseudo-family, providing healthy relationships and support that may be lacking within the residents’ actual families.4
In a study looking at 18-month outcomes of sober living homes, 6-month abstinence improved from 11% at baseline to 68% at 6 and 12 months; however, 18 months abstinence was a bit lower.1 Other positive outcomes included fewer occurrences of relapse, fewer arrests, and lower severity of other psychiatric disorders.3
Who Benefits from Sober Living Homes?
Those recovering from drug or alcohol abuse can experience many stressors and triggers in their daily lives that can potentially lead to relapse. Skills learned during treatment as well as living in an environment free from drugs and alcohol may help contribute to maintaining sobriety.
Some sober living homes are geared toward specific populations who are especially vulnerable to relapse.2 This might include those who are homeless, recently were incarcerated, or veterans. A sober living home that serves a particular demographic offers a community of people with similar life experiences to bond and support one another in their recovery and abstinence.
Some college and universities throughout the United States have adopted the use of sober living homes for their students who are in recovery from addiction. Texas Tech University, for example, established a center for collegiate recovery communities to support students in recovery, as well as offering recovery-living dormitories and supporting off-campus recovery living as well.5
House Rules and Procedures
According to SAMHSA’s best practices and suggested guidelines for recovery housing, sober living home operators should have clearly written and easy-to-read documentation, including procedures and rules that are clearly explained to each new resident.2
The rules and guidelines for behavior within sober living homes vary from house to house, but typically include:6
- Remaining free of alcohol and drugs.
- Participating in house governance.
- Paying rent.
- Completing all assigned chores.
Rule violations have consequences, which may involve paying a fine, making amends to other people involved, or even being asked to leave the house.
Recovering from addiction can be a long and often challenging process, but for some staying in a sober living home can make maintaining sobriety easier.
- Polcin, D. L., Korcha, R., Bond, J. & Galloway, G. (2010). What did we learn from our study on sober living houses and where do we go from here?Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 42(4), 425–433.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019). Recovery Housing: Best Practices and Suggested Guidelines.
- Polcin, D. L., Korcha, R. A., Bond, J. & Galloway, G. (2010). Sober living houses for alcohol and drug dependence: 18-month outcomes. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 38(4), 356–365.
- Heslin, K. C., Hamilton, A. B., Singzon, T. K., Smith, J. L., & Anderson, N. L. (2011). Alternative families in recovery: Fictive kin relationships among residents of sober living homes. Qualitative Health Research, 21(4), 477–488.
- Texas Tech University. (2020). The Center for Collegitate Recovery Communities at Texas Tech University.
- Jason, L. A., Olson, B. D., Ferrari, J. R., Majer, J. M., Alvarez, J. & Stout, J. (2007). An examination of main and interactive effects of substance abuse recovery housing on multiple indicators of adjustment. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 102(7), 1114–1121.