What is a Sober House?Anna Ciulla
Many addicts learn the harsh truth that the real battle against their addiction starts after their drug detox and treatment. While beating an addiction is known to be difficult, it’s often reacclimating with the “outside world” and staying sober after abstinence that poses the biggest challenges. For some, it’s a bit too difficult to jump right back into their old lives.
Enter the sober living home, the waypoint between an inpatient drug rehab and life after it. Now, this is not on outpatient treatment program or a long-term residential treatment plan, this is the step after an addict has gone through the detox process. Typically, it’s a place which houses residents dealing with similar struggles. These former addicts band together to form a community of support, making it easier to continue with sobriety and abstain from substance use.
How Does A Sober House Work?
First, a sober living home falls beneath an umbrella of many terms. Other known terms are:
- Sober Living Community
- Sober House
- Sober Home
- Recovery Housing
- Recovery Home
You may also be familiar with a common term called a “halfway house,” which differs slightly from a sober house. Each term above refers to the same type of platform; a home that houses individuals on the road to recovery, provides elements of a rehab facility, yet doesn’t enforce the same discipline.
So then, how exactly does a sober housework?
Routine & Rules
The point to a sober house is to ensure that those living within it stay sober while slowly reintroducing them to society. By establishing a routine, the residents can find comfort in a structure that keeps them on the right course. This sort of discipline works to keep them busy, active, and abstinent. It also forces them to engage in a routine that is unlike what they were experiencing prior to treatment—further keeping them away from triggers. Once the recovering addict is able to apply what they learned in rehab and they begin to adapt to normal life in a safe environment, they’ll be fully prepared for staying sober.
Some of the house rules and routines commonly enforced in a sober home are:
- Abstaining from drugs and alcohol: there is a zero-tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol within a sober home. By definition, it defeats the purpose. Most sober homes routinely execute randomized drug testing, which every resident is subject to. This is one of the facets of sober housing that pays close similarities to rehab.
- Chores: each resident will be responsible for a certain number of chores they have to complete around the house. This can be as mundane as making their bed and tidying their room in the morning, to cleaning duty, dish duty, and assisting in the kitchen. These chores not only work to create structure and routine for the residents, but they also give them a sense of purpose. By sharing the workload, community fosters.
- Check-in, Check-out: oftentimes, sober housing will enforce strict curfews. Residents will be required to check in once they’ve entered the home and check out when they leave. The latter almost always requires them to state where they’re going. Additionally, these off-hours allow the former addict time to find employment, work (if they’re indeed employed), catch up with friends and loved ones, and begin to acclimate with society once more.
- The Buddy System: another facet to the check-in, check-out discipline is the buddy system. Often, new addicts joining a sober home will only be allowed to leave if they’re going with a senior sober home live-in. This not only fosters a relationship between the two, but it allows the more experienced resident to protect the newer one from triggers.
- Routine Meetings: from house meetings, group therapy, 12-Step groups, to one-on-one therapy, meetings are usually integrated into the routine of a resident living in a sober home. These practices work to upkeep the tools they learned during treatment, and to sharpen their “trigger response.” It’s aftercare at its finest because it’s carried out alongside the addict’s peers and those facing similar struggles—with the added element of being roommates.
- Recreational Time: there will be a time in each day dedicated to recreation. Usually, this occurs at night, where residents can call their families or loved ones, read, watch TV, or socialize with the others. This time is welcomed with open arms, seeing as the rest of the day is usually structured.
- Gym Time: exercise and healthy hobbies are greatly encouraged for former addicts, especially once they’ve left treatment. The idea is to find something stimulating to channel energy into, as it dissuades the mind from growing stagnant and thinking of drug use. Often, those living in a sober home will have a dedicated gym time in which they all go exercise together. It’s a great way to release stress and bond with one another.
While most of the points addressed above might seem simple, to a former addict they provide the perfect amount of structure needed to remain abstinent. Additionally, sober homes often provide resources for the residents, helping them find employment or their own sense of confidence. It’s like rehab just without the stricter discipline or direct supervision.
With that being said, are sober homes effective?
Do They Work?
A study done in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs certainly seems to think so. After studying 300 individuals, they concluded that:
“Our study found positive longitudinal outcomes for 300 individuals living in two different types of SLHs, which suggests they might be an effective option for those in need of alcohol- and drug-free housing. Improvements were noted in alcohol and drug use, arrests, psychiatric symptoms, and employment. Owners and operators of SLHs should pay attention to factors that predicted better alcohol and drug outcomes, including higher involvement in 12-step meetings, lower alcohol and drug use in the social network, and lower psychiatric severity.”
Unfortunately, although sober living homes have been around since the 1970s, there is not enough research done on their efficacy to truly stand out. However, the study above found that the platform of sober living yielded great results, although it was dependent on the structuring of discipline and routine.
Are There Objective Benefits?
Most recovering addicts can benefit from a sober living environment. The benefits are nearly endless, especially since the recovering addict gets a chance to apply their new skill set in a safe and supportive environment.
Some ubiquitous benefits are:
- Exposure to a healthy community: individuals going through aftercare are often encouraged to create a new routine, join a new social circle, and find like-minded people to connect with. A sober home provides exactly that, seeing as it’s a substance-free environment filled with people working towards the same goal. By design, this creates bonds and friendships that support each other in a healthy fashion, even once these roommates have parted ways.
- A place devoid of triggers: relapse prevention focuses specifically on identifying and avoiding “triggers.” Addiction triggers (both external and internal) are what drive a user towards relapse. Being that everyone in a sober living home is trying to avoid them, there are less around. Alcohol, drug use, and environments where they’re present won’t be condoned. In this, the person living in a sober home finds refuge.
- By enforcing discipline, accountability builds: in a way, ensuring that the sober home resident carries out their chores, abstains from substance use, and frequents the required meetings prepares them for their future. It creates accountability, structure, and a routine that is not unlike what they will soon experience—just in a different capacity. Remember that drug addiction can be an all-encompassing ailment that removes a person from society. Meaning that finding a job, keeping that job, and being a “normal” functioning member in society can become something that needs to be relearned.
- Enforced Maintenance: another benefit of sober housing is enforced maintenance. By this, of course, we mean therapy. A common pitfall of recovering addicts is that, once addiction treatment is completed, they breeze through aftercare without the proper upkeep. What often happens is that they feel great, feel ready, and stop going to the recommended groups, therapy sessions, and check-ins. Eventually, they lose sight of their goals and relapse. By living in a sober home, aftercare occurs weekly and becomes a practice done in unity (seeing as everyone experiences these sessions together).
What’s the Difference Between a Sober House and a Halfway House?
In certain instances, there are none. Some halfway houses operate the same way as sober living. The key difference is that halfway houses can serve another purpose; to house convicts emerging from incarceration.
These individuals likely went through a rehabilitation or drug treatment program while they were in prison. In which case, before rejoining society and being left to their own will, they begin their migration at a halfway house, where they can join others facing the same struggle.
The structure of a halfway house is not different than sober living, save for the emphasis put on assisting their road to employment; a convicted felon will have a harder time finding a job than a former addict.
How Do I Find the Sober House That’s Right For Me?
As with many things in life, research is important. First, it’s important to remember that a sober house owner is running a business, and it’s often quite lucrative. Additionally, the level of expertise required to run a sober home is not on par with that of running a rehab clinic; it’s significantly lower.
It’s encouraged that you talk to the owner and ensure that you like their character, believe in their values and that they come well-reviewed. Some important questions to ask:
- Do they have years of experience running a sober home?
- What are the reviews coming from?
- What prompted them to create a sober living home? Were they once an addict?
Then, as you begin to familiarize yourself with the new program, a few other tips include:
- Reading the rules and structure meticulously. You want to be in an environment that makes you comfortable, happy, and stable. If the house rules don’t suit your needs and you think you might feel trapped, this could be detrimental to your recovery.
- What type of roommates do you want? Is it going to be same-sex or coed? In which case, are you ready to be around members of the opposite or same sex and abstain from intimacy?
- Do you like the area? Often, former addicts are best served living in an area that they like. The stimulation begets happiness, and they feel excited to live life once more. If the sober home is in a neighborhood or location that the individual doesn’t enjoy, this could be cause for unhappiness. You want the future to seem exciting, not bleak.
What’s the Cost of Sober Living?
The cost of a sober living home varies and pays close similarities to renting a home or apartment. The fact of the matter is it often depends on location, amenities, and size. Citywide ordinances are also a contributing factor, as they dictate how many people one can legally fit in a space.
From rooms that are no more than $400 a month, to upwards of $7k in luxurious sober living homes in Los Angeles, there is no one-size-fits-all pricing model for sober living homes. Do some looking around in the area that you want to live in, explore your options, and you’ll be able to identify the pricing you can expect to pay.
Be Warned: The “Flop House”
As you learn more and more about sober living, perhaps searching options out for yourself, it’s important that you’re aware of the “flop house.” This dark side of sober housing occurs when a home is filled with residents actively using, yet they’re allowed to stay so long as they pay rent. In this way, a safe environment is provided for users with nothing more than profit margins in mind.
These environments are extremely dangerous, sad, and downright evil. Often a result of negligent regulation, these homes can go on for years before being brought to an end. This only further supports how important it is to research the place you’re considering living in.
Reach Out to Beach House Recovery!
If you’re still unsure where to turn, reach out to Beach House Recovery for a list of recommendations. Our Florida drug rehab can provide you with a large list of reputable sober homes and walk you through the process, answer any questions you may have, and point you in the right direction. A sober home, after all, can be a fantastic buffer between you and the triggers of the outside world. One that, in due time, readies you for your next journey. For more information, contact Beach House Recovery today.
- Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. Douglas L. Polcin. What Did We Learn from Our Study on Sober Living Houses and Where Do We Go From Here? PMC 2011, Mar 15.
- Critics call for change as some unregulated sober houses offer little counseling, big profits. WKYC 3.