What Is a Halfway House and Should You Consider It for Your Recovery?Anna Ciulla
What’s next for you after treatment for drug and alcohol abuse? Whether you’re now about to complete residential or inpatient treatment to overcome your addiction or are going to transition from outpatient treatment, the prospects for your continuing sobriety may require additional structure and support. For some in recovery not yet ready to return home and resume living in their normal environment, strong consideration should be given to moving to a halfway house as a stepped-down stage of continuing care to promote effective long-term recovery.
WHAT IS A HALFWAY HOUSE?
The simple definition of a halfway house is a place where individuals who are not yet ready to live on their own due to substance abuse, mental health issues or other problems can reside in a safe and structured environment while they gain skills and self-confidence to re-enter society. The concept of halfway houses as community transitional residences and living environments for ex-offenders, alcoholics, drug addicts, individuals released from prison on probation and parole, and some individuals with mental health problems gained momentum in 1964 when a small group of persons operating halfway houses met to discuss establishing an organization, which later became the International Halfway House Association, and develop guidelines and standards for halfway houses and community treatment centers.
While there are many similarities between a halfway house and a sober living home, a halfway house is an important option for some individuals seeking to transition from treatment in a residential drug rehab program or outpatient treatment program to a still-structured, yet more flexible living environment in which to continue to learn coping skills and benefit from social support from peers. A halfway house can serve as a good early recovery back into society after intensive outpatient treatment. Some halfway houses receive state and federal funding through grants, while most sober living homes are self-sustaining through payment of residents’ fees. Residents of both are expected to participate in paying for their stay, whether through gainful employment, setting up a payment plan, taking out a loan, using savings, credit cards, borrowing from family or friends, or applying for financial aid from various sources.
Neither a halfway house nor a sober living house is treatment, although both strongly encourage or require participation in 12-Step, self-help or other recovery meetings and many include access to evidence-based therapeutic treatment modalities in the community.
Since halfway houses and sober living homes were not licensed by any state agency and not subject to accreditation or certification, some associations have formed, such as the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals (CCAPP) and the National Alliance for Recovery Residences (NARR) to set forth standards for sober living environments and push for quality recovery residences. The NARR established a national standard for recovery residences in 2011 and, in 2016, released its code of ethics for recovery residences.
HOW A HALFWAY HOUSE CAN BENEFIT YOUR RECOVERY
The issue of motivation to maintain sobriety has intrigued researchers for some time. Yet, few studies focused on halfway houses or sober living homes in how motivating they are to residents in helping them achieve lasting sobriety. One study published in the Journal of Drug Issues examined three sober living houses in Northern California and found that high 12-Step group affiliation in those halfway houses was associated with higher abstinence in recovery after treatment. The study also recommended that strategies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), that help residents learn to cope with the challenges of abstinence, could provide more stability and confidence in being able to return to society following a stay in the halfway house.
Another study by the same authors, published in 2010 in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, found that addicts in recovery who lived in a structured sober living home are significantly less likely to experience relapse, homelessness or arrest once they leave the home’s environment.
A 1995 study of veterans enrolled in an outpatient aftercare program following completion of residential treatment for alcohol, cocaine and mixed alcohol-cocaine abuse and/or dependence and concurrently admitted to a nearby halfway house found that placement in a halfway house can lead to aftercare retention and treatment.
KEY COMPONENTS OF HALFWAY HOUSE LIVING
Living in a halfway house or a sober living house entails acceptance of and adherence to several rules and expectations. Some variation of the following applies to halfway houses and should be expected as conditions to live in the supportive environment:
- A commitment to staying sober
- Adherence to house rules governing conduct and behavior
- Regular inspections of living quarters to ensure a drug- and alcohol-free environment
- Payment of rent to help foster a sense of responsibility and build self-discipline
- Random and regular drug and alcohol testing
- Respect and adhere to the nightly curfew
- Performing all assigned chores
- Attending and participating in 12-Step, self-help or other recovery meetings
- Getting a job, going to school or having another productivity goal
- Attending community/group meetings
Neither a halfway house nor a sober living home is like living at your own home. It is more structured than that, which is exactly what many newly-clean addicts need. It also offers more freedom and flexibility than you experienced during residential treatment and even outpatient treatment. Living in the structured environment offered by a halfway house gives you time to gain self-confidence and to feel secure in your newly-achieved sobriety and to make progress toward goals of independent living and returning to society along with other people that are living similar experiences.
IS A HALFWAY HOUSE RIGHT FOR YOU?
If you are currently participating in residential treatment at a drug and alcohol treatment facility affiliated with or that uses certain halfway houses and sober living homes, it is very likely that transitioning to a somewhat less restrictive yet still structured environment while you become stronger in recovery will be discussed with you as part of your continuing care and next steps. If you are in an outpatient treatment program, you may inquire about recommended halfway houses and research them on your own or get a referral from the outpatient treatment program. You can also talk with members of your 12-Step or support groups who have utilized halfway houses and can vouch for them. This transitional living environment could have a greater impact on your long-term sobriety as you transition back into society.
Not everyone needs additional time in a somewhat-less structured environment to build a stronger foundation in recovery. Yet, some do, and the structured environment and halfway house rules are very beneficial to them, especially during the early days of recovery. Those who are dealing with physical and/or mental health challenges or recovering from dual diagnoses or poly-addictions may find that halfway houses offer a viable path to continuing recovery. During their time at a halfway house, all residents can learn valuable life skills and coping methods for mental health disorders and addiction that will enhance their prospects of staying sober.
Length of stay ranges from three months to one year, which is considered the adequate time to get a job, go back to work or school, and feel more comfortable and strong in your recovery. The amount of time in residence, however, varies from one individual to the next.
For recovering addicts ordered or mandated by the court to live in halfway houses, living in one following treatment (or at least 30 days of sobriety) is not a choice but a requirement. Otherwise, residency at a halfway house or sober living home is voluntary. While you can leave when you choose, if you’ve put down a deposit or signed a contract, you may lose that money.
Perhaps the biggest inducement to consider a halfway house for your recovery is the ongoing sober support you’ll receive by living there. Other residents who’ve struggled with the same type of issues you’re going through can offer peer support that’s unmatched elsewhere. This community creates a strong sober support system that can be vital in your goal to maintain sobriety and learn to thrive as a productive member of society. You’ll be held accountable for your actions, be given chores and assignments to build self-discipline and responsibility, learn new ways of coping and life lessons, achieve increasing levels of self-confidence as you complete goals and continue to make progress.
The next steps? They’re up to you. If you feel you need more time in a safe and secure, drug- and alcohol-free living environment while you ramp up your skills and build a stronger recovery foundation, consider a halfway house as the next destination on your addiction treatment path to continuing recovery.
Alcoholics Anonymous. “Welcome to Alcoholics Anonymous®.” Retrieved January 22, 2018.
Alvis House. “Alvis House: Halfway House Program Handbook.” Retrieved January 23, 2018.
American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. “Effects of halfway house placement on retention of patients in substance abuse aftercare.” Retrieved January 22, 2018.
California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals. “Standards for Sober Living Environments.” Retrieved January 23, 2018.
Journal of Drug Issues. “Interaction of Motivation and Social Support on Abstinence Among Recovery Home Residents.” Retrieved January 22, 2018.
Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. “A Clean and Sober Place to Live: Philosophy, Structure and Purported Therapeutic Factors in Sober Living Houses.” Retrieved January 22, 2018.
Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. “Sober Living Houses for Alcohol and Drug Dependence: 18-Month Outcomes.” Retrieved January 22, 2018.
National Alliance for Recovery Residences. “Standards and Certification Program.” Retrieved January 23, 2018.
National Criminal Justice Reference Service. “Guidelines and Standards for Halfway Houses and Community Treatment Centers.” Retrieved January 23, 2018.