The term sober living encompasses a range of residential programs specifically tailored to meet the needs of a group of individuals who are in recovery from addiction and in need of the support that comes from living in a home that is guaranteed to be substance-free with peers who are also working to live a sober life. Every sober home is different, but they all share one thing in common: a focus on providing a safe environment for people who are trying to establish themselves in recovery while preparing to live independently without relapse.
What is a Sober Living House?
In general, sober living homes usually:
- Provide living space to a single gender
- Have a staff member on site at all times
- Offer some level of support with difficulties or challenges related to sustained recovery
- Require residents to actively play a role in creating a positive environment within the home
- Require residents to work or otherwise progress toward achieving goals that will help them to establish themselves in independent recovery
How Do Sober Living Homes Work?
According to a study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, residents of sober living homes made positive progress on:
- Avoiding relapse
- Getting or maintaining employment
- Continuing to receive treatment for co-occurring psychiatric issues
- Avoiding arrest or police contact
When coupled with active engagement in a 12-Step program or other addiction support group, rates of sustained abstinence were even higher and rates of arrests were lower. Researchers identified that support group engagement and the development of a social support network that included few – or no – people who actively use drugs and alcohol were key factors in this success.
Requirements of a Sober Living Program
Every sober living home is different and will require residents to maintain different regulations, attend to their recovery according to certain rules, and otherwise take part in the sober living community in the home in a unique way.
In general, sober living residents are expected to:
- Avoid drug and alcohol use of any kind.
- Avoid bringing any drugs or alcohol into the house.
- Avoid bringing any guests into the house who have drugs or alcohol or are under the influence.
- Sign guests in and out and maintain a daytime-only visiting schedule (e.g., no overnight guests).
- Actively participate in a minimum number of 12-Step meetings or other addiction support groups each week or month.
- Take part in a certificate or school program, an outpatient treatment program, or find and maintain employment.
- Work to get along with other residents of the home and staff members, and take an active role to find a positive resolution to conflicts.
- Take part in the upkeep and maintenance of the home with other residents.
- Take part in regular house meetings.
- Follow all other specified rules of the sober living home.
- Take part in random drug testing.
Benefits of Sober Living
Though the rules may seem stringent, residents who come from residential drug rehab programs will find that they are far less restrictive than the rules at their inpatient treatment facilities. The idea is to maintain a high standard of support in terms of helping residents to interact with others positively and to take responsibility for themselves, their recovery, and their home in a manner that will continue naturally as they transition into independent living.
When living a sober life, it is necessary to avoid contact with people who are using drugs and alcohol, to focus on one’s recovery while also maintaining employment, and to manage a household while also interacting positively with others. At a sober living home, these standards are written out in rule form just to make sure that everyone is on the same page and there is no ambiguity about how one should behave or spend their time to make continued progress in recovery.
Thus, benefits of sober living include:
- Getting practice working through conflict with others positively without turning to drugs and alcohol as an outlet
- Support while building a positive network of friends, coworkers, and peers who are supportive of recovery and not drinking or getting high
- Support while working through an educational program, continuing to take part in an outpatient treatment program, or going back to work while maintaining sobriety despite any stressors that may arise
- Encouragement to make positive living choices, such as getting a good amount of sleep, eating healthy food, working out regularly, and spending time with positive people
Sober Living during Intensive Outpatient Treatment
Many choose to enroll in a sober living home while engaging in an intensive outpatient treatment program (IOP) rather than enroll in a residential treatment program. The sober living home provides them with the safe, substance-free living environment as they get treatment and also provides them with the flexibility to get and maintain employment at the same time or otherwise continue to maintain commitments to family or in the community. For those who feel strong in their ability to maintain abstinence with the support of randomized drug testing, IOP treatment, and peers at a sober living home, this can be a great way to stay close to home and get the treatment necessary to heal without going into a 30+ day residential treatment program and potentially losing a job or family connections.
Sober Living after Treatment
Many clients find that choosing a sober living program after going through a residential treatment program or an intensive outpatient treatment program is a necessary way to slowly step down the level of support they have. Residents go from round-the-clock support to more freedom at a sober living program, and then finally transition into independent living. Most use their free time to:
- Find a job and work to save money
- Connect with others in the community (in and out of the sober living home) in order to have a strong support network
- Enroll in educational programs that will increase their employability and earning potential
- Maintain legal commitments (e.g., meet with parole/probation officer as needed, complete community service, pay fines, appear in court, etc.)
Sober Living as a Reconnection with Recovery
Some choose to move into a sober living long after the completion of treatment or after taking part in a few outpatient therapeutic treatments and do not come directly from an intensive rehabilitation program. Making use of this resource when one is employed or finds that their personal living situation is unsafe and/or not conducive to sustained sobriety due to high rates of substance use among other members of the household is smart. Rather than waiting until relapse – or until relapse turns into a return to active and ongoing addiction behaviors – moving into a sober living home can help someone in recovery to reconnect with recovery principles and get the support needed to get back on track before things spiral out of control.
Types of Sober Living Programs
There are a number of different levels of support when it comes to sober living homes, a spectrum of onsite support and external requirements placed on residents. On one end of the spectrum is the treatment-intensive sober living program, one that requires attendees to either be enrolled in an adjacent treatment program or else provides a certain number of hours or therapeutic treatment each day as well as requires residents to attend 12-Step meetings out in the community daily. Staff members – often multiple staff members – are on site 24 hours a day, and strict attention is paid to ensuring that all house members are up by a certain time and out of the house, and home by curfew and in bed with lights out by a set time.
On the other end of the spectrum is the far less restrictive sober living home. A staff member may check in regularly but may not be available at all times. Residents are expected to create their own schedules and manage their responsibilities with the understanding that if they in any way break the main rules – that is, they must stay sober and keep all drugs and alcohol out of the house – then they will be asked to leave.
In between these two extremes is where most sober living programs reside. That is, there may be some requirement to attend 12-Step meetings but no therapy provided on site. Or there may be a case manager available by request if assistance is needed in creating a personal recovery plan during one’s stay at the sober living home but no active case management and check-ins are required. House rules run the gamut as well, ranging from highly demanding (e.g., requiring residents to shower on a schedule, help prepare household meals, and attend regular household meetings) to far less so. It is important to investigate fully what is expected of residents before enrolling in a sober living home.
Choosing a Sober Residence
The good news is that there are so many different types and styles of sober living programs that there is something for everyone. But because there are so many different options to choose from, it is important that all potential clients take the time to look deeply into their options, contrast and compare, ask questions, and visit if possible before making a decision.