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American Addiction Centers National Rehabs Directory

Guide to Sober Living

What Is Sober Living?

Sober living is a type of informal treatment for substance use disorders. These programs are established in houses occupied with people in recovery from misuse of alcohol and drugs. A sober living home provides a safe, stable environment that does not tolerate substance use.

The houses are owned and operated by organizations or individuals that create general guidelines and regulations within the homes. Since sober living houses (SLHs) are minimally regulated, there will be high variability between programs.

Adherence to a peer-oriented model of recovery, as well as the health, quality, and safety of many sober living houses are monitored by groups like the California Association of Addiction Recovery Resources (CAARR) or the Sober Living Network (SLN).1

Key Features of Sober Living

The primary feature associated with sober living is the social support created within the house. Individuals with social support groups that discourage substance use are more likely to end their use, see a reduction in psychiatric symptoms, reduce criminal activity, and increase their likelihood of gaining employment.1

Consider these aspects of sober living houses that support drug and alcohol addiction recovery:1, 2

  • The purpose of the house is to be a drug-free setting for people with the desire to avoid alcohol and drug use.
  • Many homes encourage residents to take part in group therapy and/or 12-Step meetings.
  • Residents are encouraged to work toward goals such as completing school, finding a job, or getting their finances in order.

These features are appealing to people in recovery because they emphasize aspects of structure and responsibility while balancing characteristics of freedom and fellowship that are related to extended sobriety.

The interactions in sober living houses become opportunities for people in recovery to build new decision-making and problem-solving skills that can be used in their lives outside of the house.

Common Sober Living House Rules and Regulations

Sober living houses are available to individuals who have completed an addiction treatment program.2 Each sober living homes will vary in terms of its house rules and regulations.

For example, one house may be monitored by a house manager who acts to create rules and boundaries for daily living, while another house may be more democratic, with housemates encouraged to give feedback on decisions important to the house. This style is known as a social model approach by groups such as the SLN, where residents may hold leadership positions or participate in a residents’ council.1

Generally, residents are free to come and go throughout the day while residing in a SLH and are not locked into a schedule like what they experienced during their addiction treatment program. The main requirement of a sober living house is sobriety.

Some common regulations, rules, and responsibilities for sober living houses may include:

  • Completing chores.
  • Preparing meals.
  • Avoiding substance use.
  • Actively participating in house meetings.
  • Submitting to periodic drug testing to ensure abstinence.
  • Participating in a mutual support or 12-Step program.

A study conducted on SLHs found that in addition to the structure and support for a recovering substance abuser and the availability of 12-Step meetings, that the house rules and regulations were significant strengths of sober living houses and important components that help keep an individual from relapsing.2

Similarities and Differences to Other Programs

Halfway Houses vs. Sober Living Houses

Sober living houses were born from a gap in options for people in recovery. They most closely resemble halfway houses and serve as a placement after the individual has completed residential rehab, but before they return home. Halfway houses differ from sober living because:

friends making breakfast
  • They generally have limits on the duration of residence.
  • They are often funded by the government vs. by the individual.
  • The funding source will be in control of rules and guidelines of the house.
  • They require formal treatment for substance use during their stay.
  • They often house former prisoners, which may include violent offenders or sex offenders.

Also, sober living houses share similarities to residential rehab programs because there is a focus on removing the person using substances from their current environment and relocating them to a setting that is primarily focused on building recovery skills while avoiding environmental triggers.

Rehab vs. Sober Living Houses

Rehab programs differ from sober living because:

  • They are far more restrictive environments with limitations on leaving the facility.
  • They are devoted to treating people that are in active recovery.
  • They are staffed with professionals including mental health, substance abuse, and medical specialists.
  • They can be costly. In some cases, health insurance will cover all or a portion of rehab. However, 90-day programs can be cost-prohibitive for some.
  • They have a set duration for the program, which is usually between 30 days and 90 days.

Other substance misuse treatment approaches comparable to a sober living house are day treatment programs, partial hospitalization programs, and intensive outpatient programs. In these types of treatment settings, the individual will leave their environment during the weekdays, receive hours of formal treatment, and return home during the evenings and weekends. These programs can provide effective treatment, but they can leave the individual vulnerable to cravings and triggers for substance use during off hours.

Is Sober Living Right for My Situation?

Sober living carries a level of risk as well as reward. Sober living might be an appropriate option for you if:

  • Previous attempts at rehab or halfway house programs were not successful or led to unwanted results.
  • Outpatient programming does not provide the level of benefit that you are seeking.
  • You lack a strong support system that can aid in your attempts to find and maintain sobriety.
  • You want to maintain your employment or other aspects of your lifestyle freely, without restrictions.

Along the same lines, there may be situations that indicate that sober living is not appropriate for you if:

  • You have a history of violence and aggression.
  • You are actively using a substance that requires more intense treatment options like detox to ensure safety.
  • You do not have the means to afford your share of the fees.

Sober living houses are an effective option for individuals in need of alcohol- and drug-free housing. Research has found that SLH residents reduced or stopped their substance use between baseline and 6-month follow up, and that residents maintained these improvements at their 12- and 18-month follow up. In addition, residents were able to maintain improvements upon leaving the sober living house.1

Individuals who remove themselves from a destructive living environment and reside in an atmosphere where substance use is discouraged and new social support systems are created are more likely to find success in achieving sobriety.1

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How long can you stay in a sober living house?

While this will vary per facility, most residents can stay in a sober living house as long as they abide by the house rules and regulations.

2. How much does sober living homes cost?

The costs of residing at a SLH are primarily covered by resident fees, and vary based on aspects such as amenities and geographic location. Individuals in search of sober living housing can usually discuss referrals and costs with their addiction treatment program staff.

3. Does health insurance or Medicare cover sober living housing?

Since sober living houses are not considered formal treatment, public and private funders will not usually cover the fees since they are not medically-based. Residents can look into entitlement programs or other financial assistance, maybe from loved ones. Most individuals must secure employment to pay for their sober living house rent and fees.

Finding a Sober Living Program

If you are engaged in current treatment, speak with your provider about sober living programs with good reputations. You may need to look in a state outside of your current state of residence; however, the benefit of a sober living house can outweigh the inconveniences, because you can significantly improve your odds of staying drug-free.

Diligence is required when selecting a house for you. Asking to tour the home and speaking to residents before making any commitments will help ensure that the program is a good match.

You can also ask your rehab program about recommendations for reputable homes. In some cases, they will help you transition to a sober living environment straight from treatment.

To learn more about rehab programs and treatment options, contact a caring admissions navigator with American Addiction Centers (AAC) free at . You can also check your insurance coverage online now or fill in the form below.

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