People in recovery from an alcohol use disorder present with different challenges and often experience very different issues on their road to recovery. While there is a generalized process for most people in recovery, such as attempting to maintain abstinence, dealing with cravings and triggers, adjusting to setbacks, etc., everyone will not respond to the same interventions in the same way. Thus, having numerous options for recovery is essential. One of these options is a sober living environment or sober living home.
What Is a Sober Living Home?
The term sober living home is used to describe several different types of recovery environments. These include facilities like halfway houses, three-quarter houses, and so forth.
The organization that attempts to set the standards for these types of facilities is the National Alliance of Recovery Residences (NARR). In order to maintain consistency in describing these types of residences, NARR has suggested use of the term recovery residence as opposed to sober living home, halfway house, etc., because many of these residences cater to numerous different types of substance use disorders, and even though there are similarities between them, there are also differences. Both terms will be used interchangeably in this article.
Recovery residences or sober living homes are group homes that are designed to offer housing for people who are in recovery from some substance use disorder. Many of these facilities are owned by businesses, some are privately owned, and some are owned by charitable organizations that attempt to funnel assistance to individuals in recovery in a structured manner. The idea is for these residences to provide a stable environment, allow people in recovery to be independent and self-supporting, and allow them to engage in treatment while they transition from one stage of the recovery process to another.
Most of these residences cater to people in recovery who are coming out of inpatient rehabilitation programs or residential programs, and need to transition to a more self-sufficient situation, but are not quite ready to go out on their own and not have any supervision or close assistance. Most of the individuals in sober living homes are considered to be relatively independent and still need assistance, but do not need 24-hour medical care or continual supervision to help them stay abstinent from alcohol or other drugs. Instead, they need supervision, guidance, and an opportunity to begin to transition to total self-sufficiency. Thus, these individuals are considered to be relatively autonomous and accountable for their behavior and choices.
Inpatient and residential treatment programs are designed to deliver intensive interventions during the early parts of the recovery process, are very structured, and allow less freedom. A person who is a member of a sober living home or recovery residence has far more freedom and is expected to voluntarily maintain participation in treatment. They are expected to do volunteer work or get some type of job, and they are still often required to have random or designated alcohol testing.
Most of these residences allow the individuals to be relatively autonomous but set strict curfews and have some rules (which will be discussed below). The residents in these facilities are expected to be responsible for their own actions and be accountable. This means that they often have to pay some form of rent, buy and prepare their own meals, clean up their living space, etc.
Most recovery residences will not have formal treatment programs in the home, although some may have 12-Step group meetings. This can be quite variable from residence to residence and even from state to state as recovery residences are now required to offer some form of treatment if they expect to be able to charge private insurance companies for their services. Even so, recovery residences continue to offer housing as their main feature and not treatment.
Individuals in these residences are required to maintain sobriety, and in many cases, they will be required to submit proof of sobriety and of participation in treatment. Even though these are not primarily treatment-oriented facilities, recovery residences will have specific rules and regulations that must be followed.
- Residents must maintain abstinence from drugs and alcohol.
- Residents must submit to drug and alcohol screenings.
- They must pay rent and expenses. Some residents can get assistance. Rent is typically inexpensive; NARR states that average rent ranges between $400 and $800 per month.
- Residents must often submit documentation that they are involved in treatment. The specific type of treatment will vary from case to case but most often includes medical management, therapy, and 12-Step group participation.
- Residents engage in self-care unless the person is handicapped or has a disability that requires them to get assistance. Residents are required to keep their living quarters acceptable and clean, pick up after themselves, maintain their personal hygiene, etc.
- Residents must perform chores. Chores can be quite variable depending on the facility. Individuals may have assigned to clean up part of the grounds, assist with meal preparation, or perform other activities that are scheduled and assigned.
- Residents are expected to perform their own shopping. Most of these facilities expect residents to buy their own food, although this can vary.
- Possession and private ownership of medication is often regulated. For instance, mouthwash containing alcohol is often banned in these facilities. Over-the-counter and prescription medication use is strictly monitored. Any type of drug paraphernalia is prohibited.
- Most of these facilities have strict curfews and specific times when residents must be back in the facility in the evening.
- There are visiting hours posted in most facilities.
- Many residences require individuals to work, go to school, or become involved in volunteer activities.
- Any type of aggressive behavior is strictly prohibited. This includes threats against other inhabitants or staff.
- Stays are typically limited and defined prior to admission into the residence. Most of the individuals in these facilities have a good idea of how long they are going to be there and need to develop a plan regarding where they will go after they have completed their stay.
Rules are typically posted in an area that is accessible to everyone. Specific residences have variations of sanctions regarding violation of rules. Depending on the rule, the sanction can be lenient or very strict.
What to Look for in a Good Sober Living Home
Anyone considering a recovery residence should look for:
- The residence’s stated policies and missions to understand what is expected and required
- Certification and compliance to legal standards (e.g., housing standards, safety standards, etc.)
- Properly trained and supervised staff members
- Staff members who are respectful to residents
- Regulations that are applied equally across all members and consistent with recovery
- Clear explanations of requirements and rules (e.g., rules posted)
- Residents who are courteous to one another
- An overall environment that is conducive to recovery from an alcohol use disorder or other substance use disorder
Bonuses include having regular 12-Step meetings on site, assistance with transportation for individuals who need it, and placement in volunteer programs or work.
Recovery residences should also be able to easily access the person’s treatment providers in order to maintain ongoing communication and help in developing an environment that is conducive to the needs of the individual. Potential residents should expect an environment where they receive support and can be open regarding their needs and concerns.
Residents should expect to be held accountable for their behavior. They should approach the situation as an opportunity to develop self-sufficiency while maintaining abstinence from alcohol.