How to Pick a Good Sober Living Home
What is a Sober Living Home?
Sober living homes (SLHs) are residential environments that require tenants to be substance-free.1 People who live in these homes are in recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction and are working to maintain their sobriety. SLH residents may include those who have just completed an inpatient rehab program, those who have recently been released from prison or jail, and those who are participating in outpatient treatment programs.
Residing in a sober living home can be helpful when someone is in the early stages of recovery, because sober living homes offer safe, substance-free environments that reduce the likelihood of the former user being triggered to use again.2 Getting sober and then maintaining that hard-earned sobriety takes time. Often, people must progress through many stages on the road to long-term recovery. Everyone’s path is a little different; some people may go through detox, followed by inpatient treatment, while others may enroll in outpatient rehab right away. Sober living homes can play an important role in the recovery journey. Sober residences can be a vital component of aftercare and are instrumental in helping many individuals avoid relapse.1
What to Expect
Every sober living home is different, with each one setting its own rules and expectations.4 Although they do not offer formal treatment, many emphasize the importance of peer support and may encourage, or even require, residents to attend 12-step meetings, as such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).1 Also, sober living homes are not licensed or funded by state agencies. Rather, residents pay for costs, such as rent and utilities, and there is no limit to how long residents can live there as long as they are paying these fees and following the rules and expectations of the home.1,2,4
Again, every sober living home differs on what they have to offer, but some of the services and resources provided may include:1,5
- Peer support from others living in the home.
- Encouragement to attend 12-step meetings.
- Access to other resources outside of the home, such as:
- Medical services.
- Medication management.
- Individual, group, and/or family counseling.
- Job training/placement.
- Legal assistance.
- Money management.
- Recreational activities.
- Social outings.
Sober living homes also vary in their rules and expectations, but commonly call for residents to:1,6
- Use no alcohol or any other mind-altering substances.
- Attend 12-step meetings and get a sponsor.
- Attend regular house meetings.
- Sleep at the home a certain number of nights per week.
- Find employment.
- Participate in random drug and alcohol tests.
- Pay rent and other fees/costs on time.
- Complete chores.
- Avoid self-injurious behaviors.
Clearly, every sober living home is run differently. Therefore, it is important that you find one that best fits your needs.
How to Choose the Best Program
There are more than 1,000 sober living homes in the United States, each with varying services, amenities, styles, rules, and expectations.1 For example, some sober living homes offer a “strong manager” approach in which someone who is in recovery takes on many of the house responsibilities, such as collecting rent and other fees, evicting those who relapse, and making sure other rules and expectations are followed.1 This approach tends to downplay the importance and potential benefits of peer support, but thankfully many contemporary managers recognize the benefits of the teamwork and collaboration and integrate a residents council to empower individuals.1
More modern approaches, such as the “social model” of recovery, are associated with the “Oxford House model.” Such houses focus on the importance of peer support, democratic approaches for running house operations, financial independence, and shared chores and responsibilities. Tenants are encouraged but not required to attend mutual help groups.1
With a broad spectrum of programs available, it is very important for someone who is considering living in a SLH to research what program is most appropriate for them and would best assist them in maintaining sobriety. Therefore, when trying to find a SLH, it may be helpful to ask the following questions:
- What are the house rules and expectations?
- What happens if the rules are not followed?
- Where is the home located?
- Is there close access to public transportation?
- What type of social support and activities are offered?
- What other services and/or resources are offered (i.e. 12-step meetings, counseling services, medication management referrals)?
- Are there staff members present, and how often? What are their qualifications?
- Is there a strong sense of community and teamwork within the home?
- Where can I find reviews of the home?
These questions are a good start when considering which program is a good fit for you. You will likely come up with many more of your own questions as you search for a sober living home. Once again, it is important to carefully consider your options so that you find a program that will help you stay clean and have a positive experience while you are there.
Do They Actually Work?
Research suggests that sober living homes are effective in helping residents avoid drug and alcohol use. Residents who live in such environments tend to see improvements regarding sobriety, employment, number of arrests, and mental health symptoms.2 Furthermore, these improvements seem to be long-lasting as they continue to be present at 6-month, 12-month, and 18-month follow-ups after entering a sober living home.8
Also, these improvements tend to be even more noticeable when the person regularly attends support group meetings.8 These findings suggest that some of the main concepts behind sober living homes, such as socializing with and getting support from other recovering individuals and attending 12-step groups, are important for successful recovery.8
How Much Do They Cost?
Lastly, when deciding whether or not a sober living home would be right for you, it is important to consider the cost. The cost of such programs varies greatly depending on location and what services and amenities are offered. However, costs tend to be similar to what others pay for rent in the same neighborhood.7 It would also be helpful to find out if any utility fees, furniture, or meal costs are included in the rent, as some programs do offer such rates.1
If you or someone you care about needs a safe environment to maintain their newfound sobriety, sober living homes are a great option. A wide variety of homes are available, and after doing some research, you can likely find the one that best fits your needs and can lead to long-lasting recovery.
- Polcin, D. L. & Henderson, D. (2008). A clean and sober place to live: Philosophy, structure, and purported therapeutic factors in sober living houses. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 40(2), 153–159.
- Polcin, D. L., Korcha, R., Bond, J. & Galloway, G. (2010). What did we learn from our study on sober living houses and where do we go from here? Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 42(4), 425–433.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (2006). Detoxification and substance abuse treatment: A treatment improvement protocol (TIP) series, No. 45. Rockville, MD: Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.
- Polcin, D.L., Korcha, R., Bond, J. & Galloway, G. (2010). Eighteen-month outcomes for clients receiving combined outpatient treatment and sober living houses. Journal of Substance Use, 15(5), 352–366.
- Polcin, D. (2006). Sober living houses for substance use disorders: Do residents receive the services they need? Poster presentation at the 134th Annual Meeting & Exposition (November 4–8, 2006) of APHA.
- Ferrari, J.R., Jason, L.A., Davis, M.I., Olson, B.D. & Alvarez, J. (2004). Assessing similarities and differences in governance among residents in drug and/or alcohol misuse recovery: Self vs staff rules and regulations. Therapeutic Communities, 25(3), 185–198.
- Wittman, F., Jee, B., Polcin, D. L., & Henderson, D. (2014). The setting is the service: How the architecture of sober living residences supports community based recovery. International Journal of Self Help & Self Care, 8(2), 189–225.
- Polcin, D.L., Korcha, R.A., Bond, J. & Galloway, G. (2010). Sober living houses for alcohol and drug dependence: 18-month outcomes. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 38(4), 356–365.