What Is Sober Living?

Making the transition back to the community after finishing a rehab program is one of the most challenging — yet rewarding — phases of recovery. Sober living homes make this transition smoother by offering a structured, supervised environment that supports sobriety while promoting self-sufficiency.

Sober living homes are typically located in residential neighborhoods, with easy access to transportation, shopping, and businesses. Many of these residential are affiliated with substance abuse treatment centers, which allows clients to move easily from inpatient treatment to a community-based setting when they have advanced to that stage in their recovery. In this setting, clients can continue to practice their coping skills while participating in meetings, support groups, and other sober activities.

living room at sober living  home of oxford treatment centerTo maintain an atmosphere that supports recovery, staff members from the facility provide supervision and oversee the day-to-day activities of the house. In some facilities, a resident who has proven to have a high level of commitment to sobriety may be nominated as a house manager or residential assistant. All residents are expected to be accountable for their actions and to observe the house rules as a condition of their stay.

Research consistently confirms that sober living is an effective way to help clients maintain their abstinence after completing rehab. A study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment tracked the progress of 245 individuals enrolled in sober living at 6, 12, and 18 months after rehab. The residents who remained in sober living showed significant improvement in the areas of substance use, mental health, and employment. Those who took part in 12-Step groups and other support meetings had the highest success rates, confirming the importance of social support and continuing recovery work in the period after rehab.

Who Can Benefit from Sober Living?

Life in the community presents the opportunity for great personal growth after rehab; however, it also represents a return to a potentially stressful environment. While sober living does not protect the recovering individual from all the stressors and triggers of daily life, it can provide an atmosphere that nurtures sobriety and provides a certain level of structure.

Individuals who can benefit from a sober living home include:

  • Rehab clients who need time to practice coping strategies before returning to the community
  • Individuals with a history of chronic relapse
  • Individuals seeking a stable living environment while they attend outpatient treatment
  • Individuals who want to reestablish a solid financial or residential history

As part of a comprehensive aftercare program, sober living helps to reinforce the skills and self-knowledge acquired in rehab. In a sober living environment, residents can focus on their recovery as they participate in support groups, build relationships with their housemates, and contribute to the quality of life in the home. Residents may choose to search for jobs outside the home, continue their education, or simply concentrate on advancing their recovery goals as they take part in meetings and household activities. The goal of sober living is for individuals to assume the responsibilities of daily life at a pace that matches their progress.

What Are the Rules and Requirements?

In order to maintain a sober atmosphere, the environment in the home must be structured around certain rules. Onsite staff members provide supervision and ensure that residents observe the rules. The most important of these rules is that residents do not use or possess any chemical intoxicants. Visitors are required to observe those rules while they are on the premises, as well. Residents may be required to observe certain curfews, or to sign in or out when they leave the house. Although the regulations vary from one facility to another, some of the typical rules include the following:

  • Residents must attend house meetings.
  • Residents are required to perform household chores and keep their living environment clean.
  • Attendance at community support groups, therapy sessions, or 12-Step meetings may be required.
  • Urinalysis and drug screening may be required as a condition of a resident’s stay.
  • Medications must be approved by house staff and taken as prescribed.
  • Residents who are not working or attending school must be off the premises for a certain period of time during the day.
  • Sexual relationships between residents are not permitted.
  • Residents must have approval from house managers to stay out overnight.
  • Physical or verbal abuse between residents is not permitted.
  • Stealing or damaging property — either other residents’ belongings or property of the house — is not tolerated.

Relapse prevention is one of the primary goals of sober living environments. While living in a recovery-oriented environment can reduce some of the triggers that may lead to a relapse, residents must still learn how to handle intense emotions, stressful situations, and cravings for drugs or alcohol. To accomplish these goals, clients may take part in peer support groups, where they discuss high-risk situations and share coping strategies. If the residents of a sober living home share a strong commitment to remaining sober, they can create a mutual support network to counteract the temptations and triggers of daily life.

How Long Do Residents Stay in Sober Living?

The length of stay in a sober living home is ideally determined by a client’s needs, rather than by an arbitrary standard of treatment. At some facilities, residents must commit to a specific length of stay, such as 90 days, in order to qualify. In general, a more extended length of stay, such as six months to a year, gives the client more time to reap the benefits of a sober living environment.

The Journal of Psychoactive Drugs studied a group of 300 individuals in sober living homes and found that many of them stayed for nine months or more — much longer than the 90 days recommended for effective treatment by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Because residents at most facilities pay for their own housing costs, they may be allowed to stay as long as they can benefit from a sober environment.

What Types of Payment Are Accepted?

doctor writing sober living treatment plan for patient

In order to encourage accountability and responsibility, residents of sober living homes are generally expected to cover the costs of rent and food. Many residents hold jobs in the community to cover the costs of living, or they may be reimbursed for work that they contribute to the house itself. The cost of rent varies depending on the location of the house, the facility’s amenities, the services included, and other variables, but in general, rates are competitive with the surrounding community. Sober living homes are often more affordable than other options in the community because the costs of the house are shared by multiple residents.

Is Sober Living Effective?

A review of research literature published in Psychiatric Services indicates that sober living environments consistently produce positive outcomes for individuals in recovery. Although further research in this area is needed to confirm these results, most studies show that residents achieve longer periods of abstinence, higher rates of employment, and lower rates of relapse or legal problems if they spend a significant amount of time — at least three months, in most cases — in transitional, recovery-oriented housing after rehab. The longer an individual has to adjust to the reality of life in sobriety, the more likely the person is to remain abstinent from drugs or alcohol.

Sober living gives recovering individuals a support network of likeminded individuals who share a commitment to sobriety. When combined with an aftercare or outpatient program that includes therapy, peer support groups, 12-Step meetings, and family counseling, a sober living environment can help to prevent relapse and keep individuals on track with their recovery goals.

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