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Sober Living: What It Is and How It Can Help You

Kicking an addiction is a challenge that doesn’t end when you leave rehab.

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Some people can take the positive coping mechanisms and skills learned during the treatment program and follow the flow. Others could use some time to hone these skills and build up confidence before jumping back into their lives and loved ones and sober living can give them just that.

How exactly does sober living work, its perks and drawbacks, and how do you find the right opportunity? That’s what this article is all about!

Sober Living: Explained

Sober living is a peer-managed housing option for addiction recovery, whether due to drug addiction – also called a substance use disorder, alcohol addiction, or alcohol abuse. The core principle is that creating a supportive community of people with similar struggles can help residents maintain sobriety.

It’s mostly considered a transitional aftercare step once the person completes an official addiction treatment program.

History of Sober Living Homes

The sober living home (SLH), a treatment center or treatment facility, isn’t a novel idea. We could trace the concept back to the 1940s when AA members saw the need for 12-step residences and took the initiative to provide low-cost housing options.

Then, the homes spread by word of mouth since the sober living home was only as good as the reputation of its owner/operator.

Sober Living Licensing and Requirements

Today, most sober living homes are independent. Some follow the National Alliance for Recovery Residences (NARR) standards and recommendations, but that’s not always the case.

For instance, Illinois has a state-wide regulation that predates the NARR standards. Under this regulation, there’s a distinction between “recovery home” and “sober home.” The former is subject to licensing and an accredited treatment provider, while the latter isn’t.

You could use “recovery residence” in Illinois as a catch-all term for recovery homes, sober living homes, Oxford homes, and more. All of which can be registered with the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS).

Characteristics of Sober Living Homes

Even if a sober living home isn’t licensed, it must still fulfill its role in helping the residents maintain sobriety. That’s why you can expect to see some general characteristics shared between most homes.

According to a study from the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, a sober living facility environment should:

  • Be alcohol and drug-free
  • Offer no formal treatment services
  • Strongly encourage the residents to attend 12-step groups
  • Set a structured rule for the residents (rent contribution, chores, meetings, etc.)
  • Welcome residents for as long as needed, provided they comply with the rules

Remember that many sober living homes give the people some say in which rules get implemented and which new residents get accepted. Others could be slightly more strict, but they’re all still peer-run.

With this in mind, many similarities pop up between the traditional sober living home and the criteria for Level 1 recovery residences in the NARR standards.

Sober Living vs. Halfway Houses

Traditional sober living homes and halfway houses might look similar initially since both are non-clinical recovery environments. Yet, they’re not the same.

The exact regulations and structures in a sober living home or halfway house vary from one case to the other. However, this overview sheds light on the differences that you’ll likely spot between the two:

 Sober Living HomesHalfway House
Alcohol and Drug-FreeYesYes
StaffedNoYes
Limited Stay DurationsNoYes
Court-MandatedNoYes
AdministrationPrivate/peer-runOften state-owned/funded

Who It’s For

A crucial difference between sober living and halfway houses is how people get in.

Usually, halfway houses are seen as a transitional (often court-mandated) step intervention between rehab/correctional facilities and independent living. Some people even have to live in a halfway house as a part of their sentence.

Someone can be referred to a sober living residence through the criminal justice system, but that’s not the only way to get into a sober living home.

For one, a recovery center could recommend moving into a sober living home after an inpatient treatment program. Some partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) also allow patients to go to sober homes for the night.

If you have a supportive environment and people around you, even a friend or family member could encourage a recovering addict to apply to a local sober living home, too. Of course, self-referrals are also on the table.

Payment Options

Payments for a halfway residence change on a case-by-case basis. In some areas, the house could be state-owned or funded. In a federally funded halfway house for prisoners, residents might have to pay up to 25% of their gross income to cover the fees.

On the other hand, sober living homes typically run on a self-pay model. The residents cover their rent in all cases, but the arrangements for meals, utilities, and whatnot vary from one home to the other.

Stay Duration

Halfway houses often restrict how long a resident can stay on the property.

Meanwhile, sober living homes often welcome residents for as long as they want. After all, it’s easier to let people live in the house for extended periods when they cover the costs of their stay out of pocket.

The Journal of Psychoactive Drugs’ study found that the average stay in a sober living residence was 166–254 days. So, people eventually leave when they’re confident they can handle complete abstinence without all the peer support.

Monitoring Level

Halfway residences should expect round-the-clock monitoring by behavioral health staff or clinical teams. Since the stays are sometimes court-mandated, breaking the halfway house’s rules can violate the person’s release conditions.

Sober living homes have rules and regulations but aren’t as tightly controlled. Note that the house is peer-managed, and there might not be any trained staff on the property.

Sober Living Illinois
Sober Living Illinois

Sober Living vs. Inpatient Treatment Programs

Overall, inpatient drug rehabilitation programs aren’t as easy to confuse with sober living homes as halfway houses, but there’s a bit of an overlap in the “residential” aspect.

To clear things up, you can look for two distinguishing factors that set sober living homes and inpatient programs apart:

  • Inpatient rehab offers professional medical support, while sober living homes don’t.
  • Residents are typically free to leave sober living homes unsupervised during the day, but this isn’t the case with many inpatient programs.

Generally speaking, rehab is more structured but has fewer chore-like responsibilities than sober living homes. The apparent difference is that people tend to join sober living homes after completing the official substance abuse treatment program.

Benefits of Sober Living

You can see the impact for yourself and look at a testimonial by a recovering addict, sharing their story about applying to a sober living home on their accord and how it changed their life for the better.

However, if you want to dive deep into how sober living can help, then we’d recommend checking the following points:

General Improvements

The primary purpose behind sober living homes is to help residents abstain. For instance, the study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs examined 300 individuals who joined sober living homes. The conclusions reflect improvements in abstinence, arrest rates, psychiatric symptoms, and employment.

Better Adherence to 12-Step Programs

Another study (also by the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs) found that 76% of the residents in an Oxford house (a self-governed sober living environment) attended 12-step meetings every week, if not more.

Remember that some cases call for a customized therapeutic approach that combines 12-step meetings with other programs.

Setting a Structured Environment

If you’re transitioning from rehab, the shift from having day-to-day schedules set for you by the staff to everyday independent living can be jarring.

That’s why sober living environments (SLEs) usually come with a bit of structure. Residents must maintain steady jobs, pay rent, clean the shared living spaces, and other essential recovery skills.

Over time, the SLE can help recovering addicts establish healthy habits and a safe routine. They can then use this routine as a base when they finally leave the sober community housing.

Building a Sense of Accountability

It’s not unheard of for the rules and regulations in a sober living home to cover drug screenings and curfews. This can help foster a sense of accountability since relapsing won’t only hurt the individual’s odds of staying in the housing but could also trigger other residents.

One of the main perks of sober living is that it gives people a voice through regular house meetings. These meetings can strike the perfect balance between structure and freedom, all while keeping the residents accountable for their choices.

Interestingly, some people believe this sort of democratic management is partially to thank for their sobriety—a stricter setting could have been too stressful for them.

Providing Adequate Peer Support

Finally, peer support is perhaps the best thing a recovering addict can get out of any sober living home.

Sure, professional help goes a long way in a treatment program. However, receiving support from people who went through similar circumstances can reduce relapse rates.

Plus, new residents could find a peer recovery coach (PRC) in the recovery residence. PRCs can then offer emotional, informational, and instrumental support.

Concerns and Challenges in Implementing Sober Living

Although sober living has many benefits, applicants, operators, and residents still face some challenges along the way.

Let’s take a closer look.

Affordability and Financing Options

Since the typical sober living homes don’t offer any treatment programs, they aren’t covered by insurance. This leaves them a bit out of reach for some recovering addicts.

Some states offer financial assistance for certain certified sober homes. For instance, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) in Connecticut can pay 2–3 months of rent assistance to the owner/operator on behalf of eligible residents.

Initiatives like this could make sober living more accessible. However, for the most part, sober living homes remain reliant on direct rent payments from the residents.

Until the residents find suitable employment opportunities, they might have to ask family members for help.

Exclusion of Certain Addicts

In some areas, opioid addicts taking SUBOXONE® or methadone (as part of their medication-assisted treatment) are denied access to sober housing options.

The reason is that the residents already living in the sober living home are sometimes concerned that drugs being used around them could trigger a relapse. They also find that it goes against the idea of total abstinence.

As a result, they might end up voting to keep the person on medication-assisted programs out of the residence.

In cases like this, the recovering opioid addict might be better off completing a detox program in a facility and finishing the required treatment plan before applying for a sober living home. Of course, things get complicated when someone is supposed to take SUBOXONE® indefinitely.

Regulatory Challenges

Some zoning regulations make setting up and operating sober living accommodations challenging.

For instance, minimum separation could be required between one sober living home and the other. Operators might also need special city permits.

Room for Improvement

While sober living homes come with many benefits, there’s room for improvement.

For instance, the peers in charge of the home need to consider factors that affect the abstinence outcome. This could require keeping an eye on the meeting attendance rates and helping residents get employed.

Finding the Right Sober Living Accommodation

Finding the right sober living home can make all the difference in your recovery. After all, the last thing you want is to end up in a fraudulent or poorly run-residence.

So, you’ll want to avoid red flags, like rundown facilities and lack of (reasonable) house rules.

Sober Living Houses in Illinois

Are you considering your ongoing care options after an intensive outpatient program?

Illinois Recovery Center (IRC) professionals can help you find a suitable sober living accommodation.

Final Thoughts

Sober living homes can straddle the line between strict structures and independent living post-treatment, all while providing enough peer support to guide the recovering addict along the way.

Generally speaking, they can be an excellent fit for someone who doesn’t have a strong support network at home. However, different setups can suit different needs.

So, don’t hesitate to contact Illinois Recovery Center today and find out if a sober living home is the right aftercare choice for you.



Published on: 2023-07-12
Updated on: 2024-05-13