Immersing Yourself in Recovery: What to Expect at a Sober Living House
A sober living house is a transitional residence that offers support, encouragement, and resources to assist you in navigating the challenges you may face in the initial phases of addiction recovery. At a sober living house, rules and safeguards can help build a foundation for sustained long-term abstinence and improved quality of life.
In this Article:
Why a Sober Living House
The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends that programs like sober living houses be offered and accessed routinely as a part of ongoing addiction recovery.1 Addiction affects every facet of your life and those close to you, often impacting:2, 3
- Family, occupational, and social relationships
- Physical health
- Cognition and decision-making
- Career performance, as well as the ability to retain or find work
- Financial wellbeing
Sober living housing was developed as a response to the co-occurrence of homelessness and addiction. But, unfortunately, even for those who have housing, many leave treatment only to return to living environments that are not recovery focused, where others use substances, or where substances are accessible.
More than half of people discharged from treatment centers relapse within the first three months.1 This suggests a severe gap somewhere in the process of implementing recovery skills into day-to-day life after treatment. Sober living houses help guide you from clinical treatment to resources such as referrals for outpatient services and community models like the 12 Steps that emphasize peer-to-peer support and long-term recovery.2
For many people recovering from alcohol use disorder, this means implementing lifestyle changes such as new social circles, new settings, and new behaviors. 4 Sober living houses support these changes.
Many people enter sober living houses after intensive inpatient or outpatient treatment. If you are in treatment, you may work with a social worker or care coordinator who arranges for sober living. However, most sober living houses do not require you to have had any specific type or amount of addiction treatment before entering. Many are available as a resource to anyone who needs help with addiction and is willing to take action toward recovery.
Benefits of Sober Living Houses After Inpatient Treatment
Often addiction treatment services involve withdrawal management services (detoxification) and inpatient rehabilitation, followed by ongoing outpatient care. Inpatient care refers to care that is 24/7. Outpatient care can include partial hospitalization, day treatment programs, medical management in clinics, and individual or group therapy.
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The transition from inpatient addiction treatment to outpatient care can feel abrupt and overwhelming for many. You are no longer completely overseen or protected from engaging in your addiction, as you are during inpatient treatment. Choosing to transition to a sober living environment allows you to maintain the social support and structure that inpatient treatment offers while getting back on your feet. Sober living homes are environments that can help and encourage you to:5
- Attend necessary appointments
- Access and utilize local assistance resources
- Find stable employment
- Build a social network that encourages your sobriety
- Improve your overall health and well-being
Sober living homes have been shown to be effective in helping people in recovery successfully maintain abstinence over time.5 People who relapse often leave their sober living homes prematurely or identify challenges with participating in 12-step or other similar group recovery forums.5
Treatment for substance use disorders makes up over 10% of the global burden of any disease. That’s higher than both cancer and diabetes.2 One benefit and goal of sober living houses is to reduce relapse and thus reduce the personal and public costs of alcohol and drug addiction, including:2, 6
- High-risk activity, including criminalized behavior
- Healthcare costs
- Mental health symptoms and conditions
- Familial and social complications
Sober Living Houses and 12-Step Programs
Twelve-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are informal organizations made up of and run by members. There is no professional involvement and no funding from outside sources. There are no membership requirements other than that you want to stop using alcohol. All expenses are paid by voluntary contributions from members. The premise of these programs is to strengthen one’s sobriety by helping others.7
AA members are encouraged to:7
- Maintain abstinence
- Work the steps, or practice spiritual principles that support recovery
- Get a sponsor—a fellow member with more experience to guide you through the steps
- Attend meetings often
- Reach out to others
- Cultivate a spiritual life in whatever way feels meaningful based on your personal belief system
Even though there is no formal affiliation, many sober living houses encourage or mandate attendance at, and participation in, local 12-step groups. While these groups are well-established as a resource for many people experiencing addiction, they do not solve the issue of housing. That is why sober living housing is so important for many people, especially in the initial stages of recovery or following the disruption of a relapse. It gives them a chance to get their footing in a sober community while having stable, safe, and affordable housing.8
Sober Living Vs. Halfway Houses
Like “sober living houses,” the term “halfway house” is a term that can refer to various types of rehabilitative housing. In many ways, halfway houses fall under the umbrella of sober living houses. Halfway houses, or residential reentry centers, are more closely associated with the criminal justice system, typically as part of a structured release after incarceration.
Like sober living houses, halfway houses enforce rules that monitor and prohibit alcohol and drug use. Many halfway house residents have alcohol and other substance use disorders.9
Ways in which halfway houses differ from sober living homes include:9
- Halfway house residency is mandated and closely overseen by court or probation services
- Halfway house residency is time-limited
- Rent and other fees for halfway houses is funded primarily by government support programs
- Halfway houses strictly monitor, restrict, and structure the daily lives of residents
Both sober living homes and halfway houses offer:9
- Substance use treatment
- Medical and mental health service coordination
- Employment and education assistance services
- Community peer support
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The Goals of Sober Living Houses
Sober living houses exist to support recovery or a comprehensive approach to improving quality of life of residents. Recovery encompasses not only abstinence but also health betterment and constructive community involvement.1
Most people who apply 12-step principles consider sobriety to be abstention from all mood– and mind-altering substances, regardless of their “drug of choice.”7 When living in a sober house, you must comply with abstinence as defined by house rules.
Many sober living houses require blood or urine tests to screen for substance use. A positive test may make you ineligible for a sober living house. For example, you may not define marijuana as problematic for yourself, but your house may consider a positive test a relapse and remove you.6
Health in recovery is not limited to recovering from the detrimental effects of drugs and alcohol on your body. Improving your health in recovery encompasses the following areas:2
Health among these different areas is addressed using various resources available through sober living houses. For example, you may be introduced to techniques like journaling or meditation to improve your spiritual health.
You become part of a recovery-focused community to improve your social health. You can often access employment resources through your sober living house to improve your financial health, whether through receiving assistance with completing social assistance applications, being connected with job interview opportunities, or receiving job training.
Services offered by sober living houses range from simple peer-to-peer support to clinical management and care coordination.3
Your sober living house may offer you the opportunity to work and either offset your rent or pay you in a more conventional way. Additionally, there may be a resident council, where elected residents convene to make important house rules and logistics decisions.
Many people use these opportunities to gain experience for moving forward with a career. Many individuals employed in addiction treatment, including sober living house managers and landlords, are in recovery themselves.8
The Rules of Sober Living Houses
The observation of sober living house rules is usually overseen by a house manager or resident council. Often this is a person, or small group of people, in recovery. Some houses rotate management duties among residents through election processes to engender peer-to-peer support. These managers or peer committees maintain the rules and decide on consequences when rules are violated.8
Peer support and management foster both a positive group rapport and a sense of agency and competence for residents. It benefits those doing service in the house and the people they oversee. For many people with a history of engagement with the criminal justice system, who have experienced homelessness, or who experience mental health symptoms, a sense of responsibility and accountability is a strong foundation for moving into a life of recovery and stability.3, 8
Rules and contingencies vary broadly among houses, but generally, they are designed to make the sober living house a safe and supportive space to live. Examples of sober living house rules are:8
- Continuous abstinence from drugs and alcohol
- Attendance at a minimum number of 12-step meetings per week
- Having a sponsor in AA
- Attendance at weekly house group activities
- Sleeping at the sober living house a minimum of five nights per week
- Maintaining accountability with housemates and house manager when off house property
- Paying timely rent
Every house is different in terms of how rigidly a structured schedule is enforced. Many residents are encouraged to work, but they must balance their other responsibilities with requisite recovery activities. They may also have jobs within the sober living house that allow them reduced or free rent.5
Sober Living House Rent
If you enter a sober living house, you will be expected to pay rent. You can expect the rent to be comparable to regional rates of similar types of housing. The cost of your rent will depend on:
- Local cost of living
- Amenities offered in your home
- The amount of space you are renting
- The number of other residents in the home
You can save money by sharing a room with other residents. Some sober living houses will allow you to offset the cost of your rent by doing work within the home.
In some cases, your health insurance can help cover the cost of your stay in a sober living home as a necessary addiction recovery service. Financial assistance programs, including grants, scholarships, and public funding, are also available for people recovering from addiction.
Transitioning Out of Sober Living
Because sober living houses are not treatment centers, length of stay is largely at the resident’s discretion.6 In many cases, residents work with their families, community resources, and addiction professionals like case managers to choose the best timing and next steps.1 If you are currently involved with the criminal justice system, an official like a parole officer may also be involved. This is decided on an individual basis.
For sober living house residents, there comes a point where you feel ready to move back into a more conventional living situation where you can continue your recovery. The ideal time to end your time at a sober living house is after you have established a strong foundation for moving forward sober, with a good quality of life and strong community support.
If you are living with addiction and need information on treatment options, please call 800-839-1686Who Answers? to speak with a specialist about your options.
- Jason, L. A., Wiedbusch, E., Bobak, T. J., & Taullahu, D. (2020). Estimating the number of substance use disorder recovery homes in the United States. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 38(4), 506–514.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. American Psychiatric Association Publishing.
- Society for Community Research and Action—Community Psychology, Division 27 of the American Psychological Association (2013). The role of recovery residences in promoting long-term addiction recovery. American Journal of Community Psychology, 52(3-4), 406–411.
- Wittman, F. D., & Polcin, D. L. (2014). The Evolution of Peer Run Sober Housing as a Recovery Resource for California Communities. International Journal of Self Help & Self Care, 8, 157-187.
- Polcin, D. L., Korcha, R., Witbrodt, J., Mericle, A. A., & Mahoney, E. (2018). Motivational Interviewing Case Management (MICM) for Persons on Probation or Parole Entering Sober Living Houses. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 45(11), 1634–1659.
- 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.
- Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2018). A Brief Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous.
- Polcin, D. L., & Henderson, D. M. (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.
- Federal Bureau of Prisons. Residential Reentry Management Centers.