Completing an inpatient treatment program is a huge accomplishment. However, early recovery can be a vulnerable time. Some people are discharged with new social and recovery skills and sent back into their substance-using environment, but not everyone is ready to return home early in recovery. If you need more time away, consider sober living homes …
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Completing an inpatient treatment program is a huge accomplishment. However, early recovery can be a vulnerable time. Some people are discharged with new social and recovery skills and sent back into their substance-using environment, but not everyone is ready to return home early in recovery. If you need more time away, consider sober living homes as a temporary alternative. A sober house gives you a place to practice your new skills in a substance-free, structured environment.1
In this Article:
What is a Sober Living Home?
Sober living programs are houses within a local community where someone with substance use disorder or a co-occurring mental health disorder can transition after inpatient or residential treatment. You can rent a room, attend 12-step meetings, get a job, and surround yourself with sober peer support. It’s much more than that, however. Sober living homes are a place to build recovery confidence by proving that you can live on your own and stay sober.1
The National Association of Recovery Residences (NARR) is one of several certification programs for sober living homes. While each state may have different definitions and requirements, there is a general understanding that there are four different types of sober living houses based on levels of support. Each requires you to follow policies, procedures, and house rules. They differ in several ways.2
Service-Provider Sober Living Program (Level 4)
The service-provider model for sober living is often an extension of a larger treatment facility with credentialed clinicians working on site. Staff provides counseling, recovery activities, and classes to help you maintain the life skills you began learning in the inpatient program.
Supervised Sober House (Level 3)
In a sober house, counselors and staff provide services in the home or the community. Continued development of life skills is a crucial feature. The sober living house manager, staff, and case managers supervise residents.
Monitored Sober Living Home (Level 2)
At least one house manager supervises monitored sober living houses. Housing is typically a single-family home or apartment.
Peer-Run Sober Living Program (Level 1)
An organization or board usually oversees peer-run programs to make significant decisions.
Sober living homes follow the social model of recovery that provides a homelike environment, hires staff in recovery, values education about recovery, understands addiction is a disease, involves residents in decision-making, and gives back to the community.3
What are the Rules of a Sober Living Home?
As the name implies, sober house residents must be drug and alcohol-free. If someone relapses, they must exit the sober living program and preferably return to inpatient treatment rather than go home. Each sober living program will have rules that fit their program, which may differ from other programs. However, a few common rules are applied for most sober living communities, including:4
- Working or volunteering occurs at most recovery residences
- Drug testing at every level of recovery housing
- Attending 12-step or other support groups
- Attending house meetings
Participation seems to be the most significant factor in sober living. Every time you participate in a recovery activity, you build recovery capital, the resources you can use to help you maintain sobriety. Examples of recovery capital include social and community involvement, living in a safe neighborhood where people get along, meaningful activities, and overall physical and psychological health.5 Sober living homes provide this and much more.
How Much Does Transitional Housing Cost?
The research on sober living programs costs is lacking. Fees vary across the United States and seem to mimic the cost of living in the neighborhood of the recovery house. Study results show a link between neighborhood socioeconomics and the price of sober living homes.
For example, areas with more treatment facilities tend to be less expensive. The most important finding is that sober living houses exist in every neighborhood, from disadvantaged to affluent. To stay at a sober house, the cost depends on various factors, such as:6
- Housing market in the area
- Level of program, with level four and five being the most expensive due to their need to pay credentialed staff
- Length of time you stay at the sober house
- Personal expenses like food, cigarettes, and supplies
Some sober living houses offer scholarships or sliding fee scales to assist those with little financial support, while other programs receive federal, state, and private funding. Most sober homes prioritize your sobriety over making money and will work hard to help you find a way to stay as long as you need to stay. For some, that is a few months, but for others, it is more than a year.6
The Excellence in Recovery Act requires the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to promote quality recovery housing to everyone with a substance use disorder. One particular task is to provide funding, in the form of grants, to figure out how to make recovery housing more accessible and practical.7 The need for sober living homes is recognized at the highest levels, and now they are taking action to improve availability.
Benefits of a Sober Living Home
A multiple-study review shows residents of sober living programs see positive results, such as a decrease in psychiatric symptoms, longer periods of abstinence, reduced criminal activity, and increased employment.8
When surveyed, residents noted additional benefits, including:9
- Staying longer in outpatient treatment
- Receiving more supportive services
- Practicing life skills and recovery skills
- Receiving support from peers
- Having structure and routine
- Being held accountable for actions
Additionally, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports four factors necessary to help people recover from substance use and co-occurring disorders adequately:11
- Encourage others to make good decisions about their health
- Give them a stable place to live
- Give them chances to be successful as productive members of society
- Build positive and supportive relationships
How to Choose the Right Sober Living Home
A report on the physical aspects of sober living homes and how they influence successful recovery provides insight into the needs of residents. These make great tips for choosing the right sober living program. Tips include looking for the following:12
- Location of the sober house should be in a safe, quiet neighborhood with minimal crime and no access to alcohol or drugs.
- Transportation is nearby to help you get to work, treatment, and run errands.
- Appearance should resemble other homes in the neighborhood.
- Design should make it easy to socialize.
- Design should give each resident opportunities for time alone and time as a group.
- Security and a plan of action should be in place if something or someone violates that security.
- Maintenance and upkeep opportunities should be available to prevent boredom and to reassure the neighborhood the sober house is a positive addition to the area.
- House rules should be easy to understand and with which to comply.
- House managers should have a healthy relationship with residents.
Inpatient treatment motivates you to stay sober. When you leave, you may feel confident you can do it. Over time, and because life can be challenging, motivation can fade. That’s why the environment you move into must continue motivating you in recovery.13 When comparing sober living houses, determine how the staff and peers keep each other excited for sobriety.
Sober living homes are more effective when they provide opportunities to build peer relationships in recovery. Caring about others is often an excellent motivator to avoid relapse because you don’t want to disappoint them. Peers in sober houses can also help one another through caring feedback. Other components of motivation in a sober living program include:13
- Access to counselors who can provide motivational interviewing
- How the sober house meets unique needs, such as co-occurring mental health or physical health conditions
- Engagement in 12-step and other peer support groups
Standards for Sober Living Homes
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration set standards for sober living programs. You can consider these standards when deciding on a sober house. A few of these standards are listed below:14
- Access to a range of recovery supports
- House culture
- Level of care
- Program certification and licensure
- Medication-assisted treatment, if needed
- Relapse policy
- Medication policy
- Success rate of previous residents
Whether you are ready to transition from a higher or lower level of care or want to start your recovery care in a sober living home, the process can begin today. Call 800-407-7195(Who Answers?) to be connected with a sober living program.
- Jason, L.A., Salomon-Amend, M., Guerrero, M., Bobak,T., O’Brien, J., and Soto-Nevarez, A. (2021). The Emergence, Role, and Impact of Recovery Support Services. Alcohol Reviews Current Research, 41(1).
- National Association of Recovery Residences. (2016). Recovery Residence Levels of Support.
- Polcin, D., Mericle, A., Howell, J., Sheridan, D., & Christensen, J. (2014). Maximizing Social Model Principles in Residential Recovery Settings. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 46(5), 436-443.
- National Association of Recovery Residences. (2012). A Primer on Recovery Residences.
- Parlier-Ahmad, A. B., Terplan, M., Svikis, D. S., Ellis, L., & Martin, C. E. (2021). Recovery Capital Among People Receiving Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder with Buprenorphine. Harm Reduction Journal, 18(1), 103.
- Mericle, A. A., Karriker-Jaffe, K. J., Gupta, S., Sheridan, D. M., & Polcin, D. L. (2016). Distribution and Neighborhood Correlates of Sober Living House Locations in Los Angeles. American Journal of Community Psychology, 58(1-2), 89-99.
- Trone, David, J. (2021). Excellence in Recovery Housing Act.
- Reif S, George P, Braude L, Dougherty RH, Daniels AS, Ghose SS, Delphin-Rittmon ME. (2014). Recovery Housing: Assessing the Evidence. Psychiatric Services, 1;65(3):295-300.
- Mericle AA, Slaymaker V, Gliske K, Ngo Q, Subbaraman MS. (2021). The Role of Recovery Housing During Outpatient Substance Use Treatment. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. 8:108638.
- Polcin, D. L., Mahoney, E., Wittman, F., Sheridan, D., & Mericle, A. A. (2021). Understanding Challenges for Recovery Homes During COVID-19. The International Journal on Drug Policy, 93, 102986.
- 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.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). Recovery and Recovery Support.
- Polcin, D. L., & Korcha, R. (2015). Motivation to Maintain Sobriety Among Residents of Sober Living Recovery Homes. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 6, 103-111.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2018). Recovery Housing: Best Practices and Suggested Guidelines.