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Guide to Sober Living

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

The houses are owned and operated by an organization or an individual that creates general guidelines and regulations within the home. Since sober living houses are regulated minimally; there will be high variability between programs. For example, one house may be monitored by a house manager that 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.

Key Features of Sober Living

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

Consider these features of sober living houses that support recovery:

  • The purpose of the house is to be a drug-free setting for people with the desire to avoid alcohol and drug use. The main requirement of a sober living house is sobriety.
  • Many homes encourage residents to take part in group therapy and/or 12-step meetings.
  • Residents must follow house rules and are typically required to complete chores, prepare meals, avoid substance use, and actively participate in house meetings.
  • Many houses require periodic drug testing to ensure abstinence.
  • Residents are encouraged to develop and 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.

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 half-way houses that serve as a placement after the individual has completed residential rehab but before they returned 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 setting that is primarily focused on building recovery skills while avoiding environmental triggers.

Rehab Programs 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 new to recovery.
  • They are staffed with professionals including mental health, substance abuse, and medical specialists.
  • They are expensive. In some cases, 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 and 90 days.

Other treatment approaches comparable to a sober living house are day treatment programs, partial hospitalization programs, and intensive outpatient programs. In these types of treatment, the individual will leave their environment during the weekdays, receive hours of formalized treatment, and return to their home during the nights and weekends. These programs can provide great treatment but can leave the individual vulnerable to cravings and triggers of 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 programs do 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 towards new people.
  • You are actively using a substance that require more intense treatment options like detox to ensure safety.
  • You do not have the means to afford your share of the fees.

Finding a Sober Living Program

Finding a sober living house in your area might be a struggle. 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.

If you are engaged in current treatment, speak with your provider about programs with good reputations. 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.

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