Sober Living Homes Guide

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Sober living homes are forms of transitional housing designed to support people overcoming substance abuse issues. Residents become more independent, with encouragement and social support through the sober environment created in the sober living home. Typically, these residences are based on the 12-Step philosophy, but as sober living homes become more popular, more recovery philosophies are being used in transitional housing programs.

Sober Living Homes as Part of the Recovery Process

The aim of sober living homes is to reduce the likelihood of relapse. Residents have gone through the work of detox and therapy in their rehabilitation program, and the sober living home provides an environment for residents to continue that work, while also learning how to be sober in their daily lives outside of residential treatment. Living around others working toward the same goal also helps to reduce the risk of relapse.

Unlike transitional housing for homeless individuals, or halfway houses for those recently out of prison, sober living homes allow residents to stay as long as needed. These buildings are converted homes or apartment buildings that, like any other rental, lease space to individuals under a contract, which also includes a dedication to maintaining sobriety. Failure to maintain sobriety is the only reason for potential eviction, aside from failure to pay rent.

Sober living homes were born in the 1970s and 1980s as a response to changes in government spending that removed funding for halfway houses for people recovering from addiction. These living situations were programs that were designed to help people who recently left an inpatient rehabilitation program successfully transition back into a regular daily routine. However, halfway houses allowed residents to stay for a few months, typically less than one year, before forcing them to leave. This did not offer enough time for some residents to get back on their feet and develop a sober lifestyle.

Sober living homes, however, rarely have a time limit on how long a resident can live in the building, although in some cases, the limit is two years. A study published in the US National Library of Medicine, through the National Institutes of Health, found that most residents in sober living homes remained in the residence for around one year.

Who Benefits from Sober Living Homes?

People who have successfully completed a rehabilitation program, particularly an inpatient rehabilitation program, can benefit the most from transitioning into a sober living home. Some will take applicants who have just completed detox, who will be participating in an outpatient rehab program while staying in a sober living home. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recommends that people overcoming an addiction remain in a rehabilitation program for 90 days. Once that program ends, however, many people can benefit from continued support in an environment that also promotes greater independence.

Residents in sober living homes can sign leases for as little as 30 days and as long as a year. Sober living homes are typically divided by gender – men and women live in separate residences – to facilitate focus on recovery. However, not all sober living homes require genders to remain separate, and some sober living homes allow women with children to live in the residence as a family unit. The number of residents in each facility can vary widely, based on building codes and local rules for these types of homes. Residential homes as regulated in California, for example, must maintain fewer than six residents to be considered “single family homes.” Other urban or suburban areas allow for more flexibility in the number of residents. However, typical residences range from six to 15 residents.

Sober living homes typically crack down on anything that might register on a drug test, and in many cases, this includes maintenance therapies like buprenorphine, Suboxone, or methadone. For residents who are overcoming a struggle with opioid addiction, this type of transitional housing may not be appropriate.

What Sober Living Homes Offer Residents

Sober living homes offer a transitional step to show those in recovery, as well as their friends and family, that they can be self-sufficient, and live on their own, while maintaining sobriety with help. Help includes working with therapists, participating in group counseling, and social support from other residents.

Being around others going through the same early stages of recovery can lead to companionship. Typically, a caretaker remains on site, to maintain the building and also ensure that residents maintain sobriety. Sometimes, sober living homes will offer other levels of support. The National Alliance of Recovery Residences offers four service levels for these facilities:

  • Peer-elected councils that run daily operations in the home
  • Peer monitoring of the homes
  • Staff supervision for 24/7 home maintenance and sobriety help
  • Licensed provider that also offers clinical care

For some residents, sober living homes offer a chance for the recovering individual to regain the trust of family and friends. This includes showing that, with support, the individual can maintain sobriety and employment on their own. Some facilities offer job training and in-residence therapists to encourage residents to maintain this focus.

Although sober living homes have been privately regulated for many years, several cities and states are monitoring these residences as they become more popular, and several areas are beginning to regulate these facilities through their local governments. In the long run, this will offer legal protections for residents and maintain standards in the houses or apartment buildings. Currently, residents of sober living homes are protected under the Fair Housing Act, since their addiction means they are considered disabled under federal law and protected from housing discrimination.

Sober Living Homes’ Expectations for Residents

Residents of sober living homes are expected to:

  • Maintain sobriety
  • Find and maintain employment or be in school
  • Buy and cook their own meals
  • Pay rent on time
  • Pay other bills on time
  • Submit to drug testing on a regular basis
  • Follow the house rules

Rules typically involve attending house meetings and 12-Step meetings. Each sober living home will have its own specific rules, which are governed either by a peer-elected council, board of directors, local regulatory agency for transitional housing, or the city and state government. For example, some sober living homes may have regular group therapy meetings in the home itself, while others will simply require residents to attend these meetings outside the home.

Things to Ask When Searching for a Sober Living Home

Sober living homes offer a wide range of services. In general, this type of housing is best for those who have successfully completed an inpatient rehabilitation program and want help working their way back into a daily routine that does not include alcohol or drugs. City, state, and nonprofit groups regulate sober living homes to an extent, but because so many individuals have different needs in their recovery, each sober living home will offer slightly different options. People searching for sober living homes should be able to ask questions of these facilities, to understand if the facility lines up with the recovering person’s needs. Here are some suggested questions to ask about sober living homes while searching for a residence:

  • What do current and former residents say about the sober living home?
  • How much does the residence cost?
  • What amenities are offered, and how necessary are these?
  • Are rooms private, semi-private, or shared? How many bathrooms accommodate residents? What are the kitchen privileges?
  • What are house rules for chores, meetings, and other necessary interactions?
  • How highly structured is social life in the home? For example, how often do house meetings occur?
  • What is the job market like in the area, or what are the educational opportunities in the area?
  • What are the city and state regulations around this type of housing? Does the residence meet those safety standards?

For many people, sober living homes serve as a solid transition from the intensity of a rehabilitation program into creating a daily routine that does not involve alcohol or drugs. As these facilities become more popular, they will be more regulated, which increases standards and safety for residents and sober living home employees. Now, each sober living home can offer different levels of service, depending on residents’ needs. In general, it is a great way to build community while also becoming more independent.