What Are Sober Living Homes?
Sober living homes, or recovery residences, provide a safe space to recover from drug or alcohol addiction, offering peer support in a group residence setting.
These homes are drug- and alcohol-free. They often require drug screenings. Residents must follow house rules and keep up with house chores.
Addiction is a chronic and relapsing disease, and environmental factors play a big role in recovery. It is important to surround yourself with supportive and encouraging people during addiction treatment and ongoing recovery.
A sober living home can provide you with a safe and supportive environment as you live with others who have similar goals. This can allow you time to heal and solidify life skills and healthy habits, so you can minimize relapse risks and maintain a long-term recovery.
Levels of Sober Living Homes
The National Association of Recovery Residences (NARR) reports that there are four levels of recovery residences, which include the following:
- Level 1 – Peer-Run: This type of recovery residence is peer-run with no certified or paid staff on site. It is often a single-family residence.
These sober living homes are democratically run, and residents are encouraged to attend self-help meetings and required to attend house meetings.
- Level 2 – Monitored: These recovery residences can either be single-family homes or apartment style housing. There is one paid staff member on site, usually a house manager.
Residents must follow house rules, be responsible for house chores, and are generally required to participate in peer-run groups and be involved in self-help and/or treatment services.
- Level 3 – Supervised: With this level of recovery residence, there will often be certified staff or case managers on site as well as a facility manager. These can be provided in all different types of residences with varying licensing requirements, depending on the location.
There is an organizational hierarchy. Residents will attend clinical services in the community, service hours are provided in the house, and the emphasis is on life skills development.
- Level 4 – Service Provider: This is the highest level of structure for a recovery residence. This type of home is run by credentialed staff and often serves as a step down from residential treatment as part of a full continuum of care.
With a focus on life skills development, clinical services and programming are provided in the house.
The History of Sober Living Homes
The concept of sober living homes, or recovery residences, has been around since the 1800s when the importance of social support during addiction treatment and recovery was recognized.
Exposure to drugs and alcohol while in treatment and recovery can be a trigger for relapse. It has long been understood that people with drug and alcohol addiction often do not have a supportive living environment that can foster recovery.
Sober living homes got their start using the foundations of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which focuses on peer and social support and complete abstinence from alcohol and drugs. What AA did not initially provide, however, was a safe and supportive living environment for recovery.
In the 1940s, “12-step” residences appeared to try and fill this gap. These sober living homes were privately and independently owned by others in recovery.
The 1970s through 1990s saw an expansion in sober living homes and recovery residences as well as some difficulties with funding and support.
Today, there are both formal, licensed, and state-funded recovery residences as well as independent sober living homes working off the original social recovery model outlined by 12-step residences.
Do Sober Living Homes Actually Work?
Establishing a healthy and supportive social network during addiction treatment and recovery is a strong predictor of outcome. It is vital for helping to maintain sobriety.
Relapse rates for addiction are 40 to 60 percent. A safe and supportive environment can play a big role in minimizing instances of relapse and reducing the severity and duration of relapse when it does occur.
Studies have shown that residing in a sober living home can improve treatment retention rates, reduce rates of substance abuse, and help people attain and sustain complete abstinence. Residents are more likely to be gainfully employed and less likely to be arrested.
Overall, sober living homes help people achieve and solidify sobriety and improve their overall quality of life in recovery.
How Are Sober Living Homes Structured?
There are a variety of options for sober living homes — those that are structured, licensed, and state-funded as well as those that are privately owned and operated as standalone sober living homes.
Sober living homes can be connected to a formal treatment program offering a transitional housing option after completing a residential treatment program or a place to stay while attending outpatient addiction treatment services. They may also have no connection to formal treatment services.
To get started in a sober living home, you can either move into one directly from a treatment program as a step down in a full continuum of care or seek one out on your own.
As their name states, sober living homes are free of alcohol and drugs. There is generally a zero-tolerance policy for substances in the house. Regular drug testing is usually mandatory to ensure that this rule is being followed.
Each sober living home will have its own set of rules and regulations, which may include the following:
- Participation in peer support, 12-step, or self-help groups is mandatory. Some homes may also require participation in outpatient treatment services, including therapies and counseling.
- All residents must adhere to house rules and attend house meetings.
- Residents must keep up with house chores. Sober living homes often divide regular household duties among the residents on a rotating schedule.
- Everyone must respect visiting hours and curfews when applicable.
- Residents must continue to work on life skills development, which can include finding a job or returning to work, keeping meetings with case workers, and engaging in community service.
What Are the Benefits of Sober Living Homes?
Sober living homes can provide you with time and space to allow your brain to heal after ongoing drug abuse and addiction. A safe and socially supportive environment of peers who can encourage you and support your sobriety is vital during recovery, especially early recovery.
This can give you the ability to solidify healthy habits and positive lifestyle changes before returning fully back into society and facing everyday stressors and triggers. You will have the opportunity to continue to hone your coping skills and use these tools to deal with relapse triggers.
A sober living home can have the following positive benefits:
- Increased abstinence rates
- Fewer instances of relapse
- Better retention in treatment services
- Improved employment outcomes
- Fewer arrests
- Better social support and healthy peer engagement
Sober Living Homes vs. Other Treatment Options
A sober living home can offer a less structured environment than an inpatient rehab center. This can allow you the flexibility to make your own schedule and work toward returning back into society completely.
Rehab facilities have a higher level of structure and will often have set schedules and intensive programming. Sober living homes can be great transitional options after a rehab program, as they are a step down in the level of care provided. You can start taking back more control in your life, but you do this in a safe environment.
Even though the terms are often used interchangeably, a sober living home also differs from a halfway house. A halfway house is a more structured environment that is an in-between option for residential treatment centers or incarceration and returning back into society. Residents of halfway houses are often court-mandated to live there. These homes are often run by the state, and programs are more structured than sober living homes.
Anyone seeking sobriety in recovery can choose to live in a sober living home, whether you are coming from a treatment program or not.
Halfway houses also have set time periods that you are required to live there, and you have to move out by a certain day. With sober living homes, you can usually stay as long as you like, until you feel ready to reintegrate back home.
Who Is a Good Candidate?
Anyone who is looking to stay sober in recovery and wants to live in a socially supportive environment can benefit from a sober living home. This can include people straight out of rehab, those with mild to moderate addictions who want to attend treatment services while in a socially supportive environment, and those in recovery who would like extra support to stay sober.
Sober living homes sometimes have a minimum number of sober days that are required before you can move in, but each house is different.
What Is the Typical Time Spent in a Sober Living Home?
One of the benefits of a sober living home, as opposed to a halfway house, is that there is often no set amount of time that you need to stay there or an expiration date on which you have to move out.
Sober living homes are designed to offer you the space to heal and solidify your sobriety in recovery by building on healthy habits and positive lifestyle changes. This timeline can look different for everyone.
The average stay at a sober living home is between 166 and 254 days, but you can stay longer or leave sooner depending on what is best for you.
How Much Do Sober Living Homes Cost?
Sober living homes are often privately owned and operated, so the costs are the responsibility of the residents.
The bills are usually split between the number of people living there, which can reduce overall overhead. This can differ based on how many people live there and where the sober living home is located.
Costs are typically around $1,000 a month per room, which can be split in half when you share with a roommate.
Again, these costs depend on the type of sober living home, where it is located, and how many people are living there. If you are unable to afford a sober living home, talk to the providers. They are often able to work with individuals to make it financially feasible.
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- Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. (2021). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
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- The Evolution of Peer Run Sober Housing as a Recovery Resource for California Communities. International Journal of Self-Help and Self-Care.
- Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction Treatment and Recovery. (July 2020). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- What Did We Learn from Our Study on Sober Living Houses and Where Do We Go From Here? (December 2010). Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.
- Sober Living House Characteristics: A Multilevel Analyses of Factors Associated With Improved Outcomes. (December 2018). Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.