A person’s home life can have a major effect on one’s ability to stay in recovery after substance abuse treatment.
If family relationships are contentious, home life is particularly chaotic or stressful, or the surrounding neighborhood makes it easy to get drugs or alcohol, it may result in a higher risk of relapse. As a result, returning home after rehab is over may not be the best choice.
For these situations, sober living might be a positive way to meet the challenge of transitioning from rehab back to daily life that can be filled with potential pitfalls on the way to sustained recovery. These homes provide safe spaces to continue the recovery process while still keeping a measure of control over the availability of alcohol or drugs. At the same time, they enable the person to return to some of the patterns of daily life, such as work, school, and other responsibilities. This combination can prevent relapse while strengthening the person’s self-confidence and the skills needed to remain in recovery for the long-term.
What Is a Sober Living Facility?
As discussed in an article in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, there is a need to provide living environments to support recovery from substance abuse for those who are emerging from rehab. A person’s home living environment does not always provide this kind of support. Sober living facilities are homes set up specifically to serve as transitional housing for people coming out of rehab before they return to their original living situation. These homes provide a combination of freedom and structure that help the person to begin to readjust to life outside of rehab.
Instead of a person going straight from rehab back to the living situation that encouraged substance use to begin with, sober living houses provide a structured environment in which a person can continue to focus on recovery from a substance use disorder. Sober living homes have strict rules restricting substance use and requiring participation in house meetings and programs that continue to reinforce the lessons of rehab.
At the same time, there is a greater level of freedom compared to rehab. People can come and go to attend school, go to work, or meet other responsibilities. While there is no formal treatment offered, house rules require or at least encourage participation in 12-Step programs or similar groups, as described by another article in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. Because continued abstinence from drug or alcohol use is a condition of residence in the sober living house, house members must refrain from using these substances while away from the home.
Another advantage to sober living homes is that the other residents are also recovering from substance abuse. This creates a social support structure for all residing in the home, and it provides a sense that the person is not alone, helping to improve motivation to stay sober.
Who Benefits from Sober Living?
Sober living is most helpful for people who have the following challenges upon release from rehab:
- A high risk of relapse exists for the individual, particularly in regards to the factors of the person’s home life.
- Family members at home still abuse drugs or alcohol or would not provide positive recovery support.
- The person does not have a stable living environment.
- The person lacks a social network or structure to help support recovery.
- A previous history of relapse after treatment exists.
A study in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment shows that, no matter the source of referral to a sober living home, the people who participate in these programs generally have positive improvements in substance use, symptoms, and addiction severity.
Recommended Time to Stay in Sober Living
The National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends a period of at least 90 days in a sober living home to develop the needed stability to support long-term sobriety. However, a study from the Journal of Psychoactive Drugsdemonstrated that the average actual stay is longer, with fewer than half of participants staying for up to 12 months. Very few stayed for longer than 18 months. For most of these homes, the ability to stay is unlimited as long as residents meet the requirements.
The length of stay should be somewhat flexible, depending on the individual’s particular needs for the transition time. Reaching a high level of self-sufficiency in resisting relapse is the primary goal, and the ideal would be for the person to stay in the sober living situation until that level is reached.
Covering the Cost of Sober Living
Unlike halfway houses, which are government-funded, sober living homes are privately paid for by the people who live there. Being able to pay rent is often one of the requirements of living in one of these homes, because being able to manage finances is considered to be an important part of occupational therapy for substance abuse.
According to a third study from the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, there are various ways in which these houses are often paid for. Some of the houses are inexpensive enough that people on public assistance can afford them, while others are designed around people who work fulltime or have financial support from family. Sometimes, criminal justice system funds may be able to pay the first few months for eligible offenders. The key is that the model is for the residents to support the home.
Supervision, Rules, and Expectations
Supervision in the modern sober living home is often provided by a person hired by the house owner to take care of the property and manage client needs. This person may also have been through recovery; if this is the case, the person is required to have a certain amount of sober time. The house manager is also expected to have an understanding of 12-Step programs or similar knowledge.
Sober living homes have fairly strict requirements for the people who live in them. Along with the requirement to pay rent and fees, rules about sobriety, participation in 12-Step or other programs, and responsibilities around the house apply. According to one of the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs articles, these rules and requirements include:
- Attendance at house meetings to set and report on goals
- Accountability for whereabouts if not at the house
- Respect for all house residents, including respectful behavior at all times
- Performing chores around the house to assist in cleaning and maintenance
Legal and Certification Requirements for Sober Living Facilities
The California Department of Health Care Services (CDHCS) gives an example of the licensing and certification requirements for sober living homes. If any level of alcohol or drug treatment is offered in a facility, it is required to have licensing from the CDHCS; this includes residential treatment programs. However, if the home is simply a living area that requires residents to remain free of drugs and alcohol, no licensing is required. That being said, the home is required to meet zoning laws and occupancy ordinances.
The laws that govern sober living in specific states may differ based on the state’s requirements. It may be beneficial to work with residential drug or alcohol treatment programs to obtain help in finding a reputable sober living facility.