What is a sober living home’s role in recovery?
A sober living home helps guide residents who are trying to stop drinking or using drugs through the recovery process. Such homes provide a sober living environment in a residential setting. Like halfway houses, they help transition residents from addiction and recovery back into society.
Sober living homes are for addicts, usually those who have recently finished a rehab program. While some facilities are privately owned, some are owned by businesses and or charities. Most of these facilities are integrated into quiet, residential communities for obvious reasons. The idea is to provide a peaceful setting in which addicts can focus on their recovery.
Residents come from all over the world seeking treatment, and don’t necessarily need to live nearby. Addiction affects people of all ages, races and economic backgrounds. This is reflected in the demographic makeup of most sober living homes.
Sober living homes are outpatient facilities and residents are free to come and go as they please. These homes help individuals maintain their sobriety and help establish healthy living habits as they prepare to reintegrate with society in productive ways.
The evolution of the sober living home
In California, the concept of the sober living home goes back to around 19351, not long after the repeal of prohibition.
AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) is touted as the original free-standing sober home, created solely for the purpose of nurturing patients back to sobriety.
This system remained in place for decades, spreading in one form another to a variety of venues and institutions. California ended custodial care for alcoholics in state hospitals and local jails in the 1950s and 1960s, which left a void of services in its wake. This gave rise to the community-based social model approach to recovery.
California switched to a system of short-term treatment that paid little attention to housing. As you can imagine, these programs were not very successful. Because of California’s explosive urban development throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s, some urban development policies were destroyed. This also impacted the much-needed access to housing for those in recovery. Protections for recovering people’s rights to housing went into place little by little until 1992.
Eventually, both state and federal support for residential treatment facilities helped. This support spurred explosive growth in the number of these facilities from 1992 forward.
Today, with support from health insurance providers, state and federal programs and competition among facilities, the situation has improved. In fact, some argue that it has never been easier to find a suitable facility.
When to move into a sober living home
Generally, residents choose sober living homes after completing an in-patient program, especially if they need the help and support of professionals as they transition to the sober lifestyle.
The sober living environment helps individuals by providing an autonomous, but structured environment. Residents enjoy the support of program directors, counselors, sponsors and co-residents. This environment is highly effective at helping individuals prevent a relapse into addiction.
What you can expect
Sober living environments augment an individual’s recovery process. It is a great alternative to going directly from in-patient care straight back into an unstructured home environment. This environment is designed to replicate normal, everyday life while helping residents develop healthy habits, which helps reduce the chance of relapse.
Sober living homes prepare residents for their return to home life by helping them in a number of ways including:
- Guides them through the process of making amends with friends and family members affected by one’s substance abuse
- Finding employment
- Finding suitable housing after treatment
- Maintaining a sober living lifestyle in an unstructured environment
Inside a sober living home
While residents of sober living homes are free to come and go at will, they have rules they must follow. They must do chores and maintain a clean space. They must also remain sober throughout the duration of their stay. Residents must also continue to follow the curriculum and attend regular meetings and groups.
A house manager oversees all activities and ensures not only compliance with the rules, but participation at every level of the program.
Sober living homes are different from rehab centers in that they allow residents greater freedom of movement. There may be curfews to which residents must abide by and they must submit to random drug tests to ensure compliance.
Residents must demonstrate an ability to be responsible for themselves. Chores and maintaining a clean, safe living space is part of that. In many sober living homes, residents pay rent, buy their own groceries, cook for themselves and do their own laundry. Establishment of these routines helps foster independence, self-reliance and responsibility.
Residents agree to these rules and sign a contract ensuring their commitment to compliance. Penalties for violations vary from home to home, but might include fines, make amends to other residents or be assigned other duties.
Additional rules include the prohibition of any type of alcohol in the home, including cooking ingredients, mouthwash and even certain brands of vanilla.
Residents must also agree to stay in or return to school or continue working.
Day-to-day living in a sober living home
A typical day in a sober environment is structured to resemble a normal residential environment. Residents wake up at a time appropriate to meet their work/school/program obligations, make breakfast for themselves, complete their chores then go off to school, work or program meetings.
The afternoons and evenings vary from resident to resident depending on their commitments and their group schedules. It’s also common for residents to participate in any number of recreational activities. These range from video games indoors to sports, hiking, basketball, barbecuing or any number of outdoor activities.
The goal is to foster the concept of working towards goals and interacting with a group of similarly-minded individuals who help provide positive reinforcement for a collaborative and constructive lifestyle.
Evenings are generally unstructured in that residents are free to enjoy recreational activities, study, work at their job or socialize. Curfews ensure that residents are held accountable.
At The District Recovery Community, homes are segregated in such a way that residents are grouped within an appropriate age bracket. The prevailing thought being that men in their 20s and 30s prefer one lifestyle vs. men 40 and up. While the activities might vary some, the same concepts apply.
How long should you stay in a sober living home?
As you can imagine, this depends on several factors, including:
- Length of addiction
- Age of the individual
- Severity of addiction
- Support system/home environment
- Psychological disposition
- Severity of injury/ailments (if applicable)
Since there is no one answer suitable for all situations, it’s best to discuss this topic with your recovery professional. Generally, residents should stay at least 90 days. Individuals who have missed long periods of school or who have been out of the workplace for a long time should stay longer to help prepare them for re-immersion into society.
Given that sober living homes are far more affordable than in-patient rehab facilities, it’s not uncommon to see residents extend their stays to 12 or 18 months.
Activities at The District Recovery Community
TDRC is unique in that many of our southern California sober living homes are in close proximity to the beach or centers of activity. We provide bicycles, barbecues, big screen TVs, video game consoles and other amenities to help our residents occupy their time and live a healthy lifestyle. This is all part of our “Adventure Therapy” initiative.
These sober living homes provide a very different environment and a much-needed change of scenery for most of our residents. The nearly year-round sunshine helps foster a positive attitude and encourages activity.
Of course, most activities are group activities. Outdoor team sports are a perennial favorite, but so is the occasional fishing expedition or snowboard trip. The activities are largely influenced by the resident preferences.
Do sober living homes work?
In a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information2, the results were impressive. 300 patients were studied and there cases were thoroughly documented.
The study showed that participants showed significant improvements in both primary and secondary outcomes after completing a long-term stay. The data showed improvements in employment, psychiatric symptoms and arrests.
The data also showed that residents had greater success if they stayed at least 6-12 months. 68% of residents remained abstinent 18 months after they left.
What was especially interesting is that 42% of people who enter a sober living had some form of arrest within the six months prior to entering a sober living environment but this figure dropped to 22% after 12 months in sober living.
While these facilities provide a high level of autonomy for residents, the carefully structured curriculum of activities, living rules and support groups foster personal growth so long as residents stay committed to recovery. The environment fosters sobriety through careful monitoring, random drug/alcohol testing, intensive group therapy, personal goal establishment and accountability. The support system in a sober living environment is further enhanced through the peer-to-peer participation.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, a sober living environment will significantly increase the probability of success.
The sober living environment helps individuals remain sober and abstinent by holding them accountable, providing support and maintaining a safe and stable living environment as they prepare for independence.
The slow transition back into school, work and society helps them adjust and handle life’s day-to-day challenges with the safety net of close support groups and peers. It also helps individuals restore their pride, self-respect and dignity through the achievement of milestones that are celebrated along their journey.
Sober living homes aren’t necessarily the best first-step in recovery, as most addicts will want to go through a detox/rehab program prior to choosing a sober living home. Detox/rehab facilities are in-patient facilities and help monitor their patient’s safe detoxification process.
Once complete, individuals should look for ongoing treatment and support, such as the sober living home. Sober living homes give individuals the best chance for success. They provide a safe place to help individuals to transition from bad habits into good habits. Pride, dignity, self-reliance are by-products of sober home living.
It’s not uncommon for residents to develop long term, meaningful friendships with their co-residents which has the side benefit of expanding the individual’s support system.
Collectively, the advantages offered by sober living homes are important to consider and provide significantly better chances of long term sobriety.