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Halfway House vs. Sober Living: How Are They Different?

Both sober living homes and halfway houses offer a similar environment and structure. Both may also help people with addictions. But there are key differences you should understand, including: funding, length of stay, and consequences.

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Halfway houses and sober living homes help people transition from a structured environment into a freeform life.

No matter which type of facility you live in, you’ll be surrounded by people who have also made commitments to recovery and sobriety. Here, you can pick up habits that will serve you for the rest of your life.

But these two homes come with key differences. Most importantly, halfway houses are made for people leaving jails or prisons, although people in recovery who haven’t been incarcerated also tend to use this term interchangeably for transitional housing.

By contrast, people choose to live in sober living homes to protect their sobriety.

A Quick History of Halfway Houses

Authorities have used halfway houses for convicted criminals for decades. The locations, rules, and regulations have changed, but core concepts remain the same.

The earliest halfway houses were built in England in the 18th century. Children arrested for petty crimes lived in these homes, and their supervisors hoped to teach them how to be productive members of society before they grew up to become hardened criminals.

In the 1950s, these homes were rebranded from transitional housing to halfway houses. The new name was designed to highlight how the residents helped people bridge the gap between lawlessness and productive society.

In the 1960s, as officials began to emphasize a form of community-based correction (rather than putting criminals away), many more halfway houses were built. The concept became widespread and popular.

In time, officials recognized that rules were required. Some halfway houses operated with a light touch, and they weren’t properly prepared to help residents. Those houses closed, and new ones were even less prepared. Rules allowed for standardization, and that meant better care.

In 2008, halfway houses were such an accepted form of care for people that legislation passed to allow people to spend a final portion of their sentence in a place like this instead of prison.

A Quick History of Sober Living Homes

In the late 1940s, as the Alcoholics Anonymous movement took off, members looked for ways to build truly sober communities of peers. Everyone who lived here would follow the 12 steps. Since they all agreed to the rules before moving in, explanations would be reduced, and everyone would get along.

The housing market in the 1940s was noncompetitive, and it was easy to find multi-family spaces that could be converted into sober homes. As this model was seen as successful and helpful, it grew. In time, there were many different types of sober living homes available.

Now, there are four different types of homes that fall under the sober living home heading. They include the following:

  • Peer-run residences
  • Staff-run homes
  • Supervised homes with certified staff
  • Supervised comes with clinical and credentialed staff

Sober living homes can be found in almost every neighborhood and every state.

How Are They Similar?

Both sober living homes and halfway houses offer a similar environment and structure.

Both types of houses offer residents the following:

  • Community: You don’t need to explain why you’re not living at home and why you need supervision. Everyone knows why you’ve made this choice. This brings a sense of community and support to all residents.
  • Structure: Sober homes and halfway houses have rules everyone must follow. You know the rules before entering, and you’re reminded of them often.
  • Some freedom: You’re typically allowed to leave the residence for work, therapy sessions, and some other family meetings.
  • Support: You’re removed from any triggers that may prompt you to return to the life you had. You’re surrounded by others who understand you, and the rules could become your own in time.

How Are They Different?

Both sober living homes and halfway houses may help people with addictions. But there are key differences you should understand.

These homes differ in the following ways:

  • Funding: Most sober living homes get no fees from state and local governments. Residents pay for their stay. Halfway houses are paid for with taxes.
  • Length of stay: Your time in a sober living home can vary depending on the extent of your wishes and how long you want to live there. You’re required to stay in a halfway house based on your sentence.
  • Consequences: Break the rules in a sober living home, and you might get kicked out. Do the same in a halfway house, and you could go back to prison.

Do I Get to Choose Between a Halfway House & a Sober Living Facility?

Outsiders will tell you whether a sober living home or halfway house is right for you. Again, if a halfway house is court-ordered, you can’t opt for a sober living home instead.

This isn’t a decision you can or should make for yourself. But know that no matter where you live, you’ll get support for your sober life. Living in this sober, supportive environment could enable you to find firm footing in recovery.

Profile image for Dr. Alison Tarlow
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated June 12, 2023
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