Sober living houses are living environments for those who want to maintain abstinence from alcohol and drugs.1 Maintaining abstinence is difficult without a stable, drug-free environment following treatment,2 so sober living environments were originally introduced as a safe and supportive place for recovering addicts to live during their first months sober.1 It is not always necessary for the person to have just completed a rehab program to live in a sober home, though. Sober living can also be an important resource even for those seeking an alternative to formal treatment.1
Early models of sober living first emerged in the 1830s and were traditionally run by religious institutions, such as the YMCA and the Salvation Army.1 “Twelfth step” houses later emerged in Los Angeles after World War II to assist with widespread alcohol-related problems.1
Most sober living environments provide a lot more than a transitional living environment; many revolve around sound recovery methodology and 12-step programs.1 Some sober living programs in Southern California are also certified by the Sober Living Coalition, which sets a high standard for safety, cleanliness, management practices, and ethics.3 Residents are typically required to take random drug tests, participate in 12-step meetings, and demonstrate that they are taking the steps necessary to achieve long-term sobriety.1
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Sober living homes offer individualized recovery plans and provide an environment that allows residents to work on their unique recovery program with the goal of becoming self-supportive. Sober living relies heavily on the philosophy of peer support and involvement for recovery.1
Newer models of sober living are sustained by residents who support themselves, pay their own rent, and purchase their own food.1 They are encouraged to work or actively seek work if they are not employed.1 Many residents qualify for some type of government assistance that can be used to pay for sober living house fees.2
Residents may stay as long as they wish, provided they follow house rules and fulfill financial obligations.2 Residents may be strongly encouraged or mandated to attend a minimum number of 12-step meetings each week, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, or Narcotics Anonymous,1 and some sober living houses also require participation in community service activities.
Clean and Sober Transitional Living (CSTL) is a group of sober living homes in California that places emphasis on community and commitment.1 CSTL homes offer two distinct types of living arrangements, separated by two phases. Residents typically share a dorm room in the first phase and each house will have a senior resident who is the house manager. Men and women live separately, but they attend events together; meals, toiletries, and furnishings are provided; and residents have access to recreational facilities. In the second phase, living arrangements are less restrictive and roommates share a home rather than a dorm room. Residents must successfully complete phase I in order to move on to phase II.4
What to Expect in Sober Living Homes
Residents of a sober living house are required to respect and adhere to all of the house rules,1 which are in place to protect all residents and guests and to make the living arrangement more enjoyable for everyone in the house.5 A list of rules is provided upon admission into the house, and residents are required to sign a contract stating that they will obey all the house rules.1 Sober living house rules may vary from house to house, but standard rules often include the following:6
- No drinking alcohol
- No taking drugs
- Any cigarette smoking must take place in designated smoking areas
- Must have no sexual contact with other residents
- Must pay your program fees on time
- Must not steal from the house
- Must not destroy house property
- Must not engage in violent behavior
- Must be actively involved in self-directed recovery program activities
Some sober living houses have a zero-tolerance policy in effect regarding the above rules and residents may be evicted from the house for any violation.1 Others are a bit more lenient with certain rules and stricter with others. For example, residents may be required to do community service or attend 12-step meetings every day for 90 days for the first relapse.1 All sober living houses have a zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual misconduct.1
What’s the Difference Between a Sober House and Halfway House?
Whether living at home, in a sober living house, or in a halfway house, it is imperative to have a plan in place for how you will live in recovery.The biggest difference between sober living houses and halfway houses in the United States is that halfway houses generally require that residents either have already completed or are actively enrolled in some type of formal rehabilitation treatment program; sober living homes do not.2 Another difference is that halfway houses have limitations on how long a resident can stay.2 Halfway houses are typically subject to government funding, leaving them vulnerable to funding cuts, and for those who are court-ordered to remain in a halfway house, generally the maximum time will be 12 months.6
At sober living houses, on the other hand, residents are simply required to remain sober and to comply with house rules—including paying rent and other dues, completing household chores, and attending house meetings.1,2 At sober living houses, residents pay for their own expenses.1 In some states, a halfway house is licensed by the Department of Health and includes 24-hour staff service, which usually includes a clinical addiction treatment team.7
Some halfway houses have been established to provide recently released jail or prison inmates a place to live as they reintegrate with society.6 Others have been established to house those with chronic mental health disorders.1 Most, however, such as federal halfway houses, have been established to house people with substance abuse problems.6 Many halfway houses will only accept residents who do not have criminal records because halfway houses that accept ex-convicts have experienced opposition from neighbors when trying to locate their halfway house in certain neighborhoods.8
The duties and responsibilities of residents at sober living houses and halfway houses are very similar in nature. All house guests must do their part to keep the house clean and neat, including picking up after themselves. The sober living arrangement is so much more rewarding when all residents chip in and help each other. Some halfway house duties and responsibilities include the following:9
- Chores such as keeping living space clean
- No pets or feeding animals
- Pay fees in a timely manner
- Take messages for other guests
- Attend at least two 12-step meetings per week
- Attend other weekly meetings such as house meeting, therapy group, and educational group
- Keep mental health and medical appointments and arrive on time
- Take your medications as prescribed
- Inform the house manager if resident will be out overnight (eligible for a 48-hour overnight pass once per month)
- No overnight guests
- Residents must have disability or full-time employment on admission
- Persons on disability are required to do volunteer work
- Smoking in designated smoking areas only
Tips for Sober Living
Whether living at home, in a sober living house, or in a halfway house, it is imperative to have a plan in place for how you will live in recovery.10 The following are a few tips to help you live sober long-term:
Attend a 12-step program at least twice a week: Most recovering addicts need to be involved with an addiction support group.10 The support group is made up of people who have gone through or are currently experiencing the same or similar issues regarding recovery. The group can offer support and provide feedback to you about any concerns you have about living sober. Some newly sober recovering people find it helpful to attend 12-step meetings every day.
Get a sponsor and call him or her as often as necessary1: The sponsor has accepted the responsibility of being a mentor, so reach out often and talk about any problems. The sponsor likely has experienced the similar problems and can offer help and guidance.10 It is important to stay in contact with peers who are also in recovery to help one another stay sober and remind each other to work on daily programs. The recovery process does not have to be done alone.
Eat three meals per day: Drug use causes negative lifestyle changes included irregular eating and poor diet, which means the body does not receive the daily nutrition it needs to function.11 Regular meals are important because a person with substance use is more likely to relapse if they have poor eating habits.11 Eating foods with low fat, more protein, dietary fiber, and even vitamin and mineral supplements may be helpful during recovery.11
Exercise at least three times per week: Addiction recovery involves the spirit, mind, and body. Exercising can play a large role in recovery by reducing compulsive behaviors.12 Regular exercise is known to release endorphins, which are your body’s natural feel-good biochemical compounds.
The most important thing is to have an long-term plan in place. Set a goal to achieve long-term sobriety. Recognize that relapse may occur, so have a plan in place if and when a relapse should occur.13
As you complete an outpatient or inpatient program, consult with your treatment team to see if a sober living home or a halfway home is a good choice for your next step in your 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.
- The Sober Living Network. (n.d.) Sober Living Coalition Membership.
- Clean and Sober Living. (n.d.) Clean and Sober Living Frontpage.
- The Sober Living Network. (2012). Standard for Quality Sober Living Homes.
- Families Against Mandatory Minimums. (2012). Frequently Asked Questions About Federal Halfway Houses & Home Confinement.
- Tennessee Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services. (n.d.) Licensure Rules: Rules for Providers of Substance Abuse Services.
- Prison Legal News. (2015). When Halfway Houses Pose Full-Time Problems.
- Mending Hearts. (2013). Mending Hearts Half-Way House Rules.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Types of Treatment Programs.
- MedlinePlus. (2016). Substance use recovery and diet.
- Smith M. A., Lynch W. J. (2012). Exercise as a Potential Treatment for Drug Abuse: Evidence from Preclinical Studies. Front Psychiatry, 2(82), 1-10.
- Melemis, S.M. (2015). Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, (88)3, 325–332.