Sober Living: How to Begin & What to Expect
Sober living homes can be a great way to slowly and safely transition back into society after inpatient treatment. In fact, some drug rehab aftercare programs offer sober homes as an option for their patients’ recovery plans. The structure and security of sober living can keep you on track after treatment, and away from relapse triggers. They are also a great way to gradually increase your level of responsibility and independence without taking on too much too soon. Sober homes usually ask residents to work towards establishing financial independence, to attend group counseling or 12-step meetings, and to pitch in to keep the house clean, cook meals, and maintain a positive community atmosphere.
This article will provide you with a guide to sober living homes—what they are, how to find the right one for you, and what to expect from the experience.
Is Sober Living Right for Me?
Numerous studies have shown that your environment plays a major role in your recovery, and that living in an unstable home environment—especially one where drugs and alcohol use are present—is an easy way to derail your progress and invite relapse. Living in a sober home as a part of a drug rehab aftercare program will not only protect you from relapse while you are living there, it will give you the time and resources you need to set up a healthy home and work life outside of sober living, so that you can continue your recovery success for the long term.
Some typical characteristics of sober living houses:
- A zero-tolerance policy on drugs and alcohol. No addictive substances allowed on the premises, and no use of addictive substances allowed while you are living there. This rule is usually backed up by periodic drug and alcohol screenings.
- Gender-specific: either all male, or all female.
- You will have to pay something, although the amount can vary—more on this later.
- Engaging with other residents in a mutually supportive way is not only encouraged, anyone who does not interact in a healthy, consistent manner with the other residents may be asked to move out. This is for everyone’s benefit, as positive social interaction is key for a successful recovery.
- Some form of continued addiction recovery treatment is often required, either through counseling, group therapy with other residents, or 12-step meeting attendance.
- Medical/psychiatric care may be provided, or referrals and transportation to such care.
- Compliance with house rules is a must for all residents. Some common sober living rules are: no overnight guests, no violence, taking part in chores like cooking or cleaning, signing in and out, getting home by curfew, and attending house meetings.
- You will need to be actively attending school, part or full-time work, or an outpatient rehab program.
Not only are you more likely to remain substance-free even after moving out of a sober home, studies have shown that you are also less likely to be arrested, and more likely to be employed and have improved psychiatric symptoms. Some sober living homes offer vocational training, educational programs, and job placement services, or will refer you to community resources that offer these services. Sober living homes aren’t just a temporary safehouse after treatment, they are a place for you to start building a healthy, independent life for yourself.
How Do I Find the Right Sober Living Community?
Studies have shown that residents of sober living houses are more likely to remain drug and alcohol free, employed or in school; less likely to get in legal trouble, and experience fewer psychiatric symptoms. However, you can only benefit from these positive results if you find a good sober living home and take full advantage of all that it can offer you. Sober homes that are very involved with 12-step groups like Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous, and/or that offer psychiatric services such as counseling, tend to be associated with better recovery outcomes.
If you don’t have a job to return to, or need to finish your education, a sober home that will help you find employment, return to school, or enroll in vocational training will be valuable to you. You may feel hesitant to move into a sober living house that requires a lot of engagement with other residents and/or a high amount of group activities, but remember that a successful recovery requires a strong social support network. Furthermore, your support network needs to include other individuals in addiction recovery, because they can offer you a level of understanding, acceptance, and insight that only someone who’s “been there” can provide. You will also benefit from offering help to others. Mutual peer support is one of the most beneficial parts of life in a sober home.
You also may not like the idea of all the rules that sober homes have, but if you are in a drug rehab aftercare program, the enormous number of choices and decisions you’ll be faced with following inpatient treatment can be overwhelming. Having a structured environment, strict rules, and clear expectations can keep life feeling simple and manageable, so that you won’t be tempted to turn to drugs or alcohol.
Other things to keep in mind when looking for a sober living facility:
- Where is it? Living down the street from your former dealer is not going to be as healthy as living in a medical complex, or in a peaceful residential neighborhood.
- Does the environment feel right to you? Visit in advance to get a feel for the current residents and the energy of the house. Take a tour if you can and ask lots of questions. Residents and staff should be friendly and happy to tell you about the facility.
- Beware a sober house that is messy and run-down. This is not going to be a healthy, positive environment for your recovery.
- Make sure that there are rules and that the rules are strictly enforced. You want to go in knowing that the sober home is going to protect you and help you protect yourself the way it is meant to do.
What is an Average Day Like in a Sober Home?
The average day at a sober living house will begin with a group breakfast between 6:30 and 8 a.m. You may even help make that breakfast, or help clean up afterwards. At some point or several points every day, you will be engaging in tasks that help keep the house clean and hospitable, such as doing laundry, cleaning a shared bathroom, or vacuuming.
After breakfast, you will be expected to participate in meaningful activity, such as attending school, going to work, or participating in counseling sessions or community service. Your house may provide transportation to these activities for you and your housemates. Some stricter houses might partner you with a resident who has been living at the house for a while, and they will show you around, and possibly even go with you when you leave the residence in the early days of your time there.
If you are at home for lunch, you may eat lunch with other residents, although lunch is likely to be the most flexible and sparsely attended meal of the day. Most residents will be expected to attend dinner, after which there will usually be a household meeting, an in-house 12-step meeting, or an arranged trip to an outside 12-step meeting. You will probably be allowed to have friends and family visit, as long as they aren’t disruptive, and don’t bring addictive substances into the home, but you will not be allowed to have anyone stay overnight.
Life at a sober home is about more than chores and meetings and rules, however. Many sober living houses have movie nights, game nights, or other group activities to foster friendships, fun, and group solidarity. Residents often watch television together, or workout. If you follow house rules, you will eventually be allowed to come and go, but you will probably have to sign in and out when you do, and there will likely be a set curfew, at which time you are supposed to be at home in your room. The set times for waking up, eating, and turning out the house lights are good for keeping you well-rested and even-keeled.
Some sober living houses are less structured, with more free time, and no scheduled meals. This can be the best approach for some people, but others may thrive in a more regimented environment.
How Long Should I Stay in Sober Living?
How long you remain in a sober living house depends partly on the expectations of the house and partly on your own needs. Most houses will expect you to stay for at least 90 days. This amount of time is necessary to cement the habit of abstinence, and at least a few months will be needed to see you through an outpatient program and/or give you the time to find a job and a stable place to live on your own.
Many people choose to remain in sober housing for years after treatment, especially if they experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS. PAWS is an extended set of withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, depression, impulsivity, and fatigue, that can come and go for years after you get sober. You will have an easier time working through these symptoms with the structure and support of a sober home.
Many sober living houses will allow you to stay however long you want, as long as you follow the rules, act as a good housemate, and pay your rent on time. Don’t rush yourself to leave a sober home before you are ready. You need to make sure that you are prepared to handle the additional triggers that you will face while living outside the home. Leaving too soon will make you vulnerable to relapse.
How Do I Pay for Sober Housing?
The cost of staying in a sober living house is usually similar to the cost of an average apartment, but some options are especially affordable or especially expensive. There are bare bones or non-profit sober living houses that may only charge a $300 a month fee that will cover rent, utilities, services, and food. Other, more upscale houses could cost a few thousand dollars per month. Sometimes the fee is not all-inclusive, and you will be charged separately for food, counseling services, or fines for breaking the rules.
Although there are some sober homes, especially those that are part of a drug rehab aftercare program, that can be paid for by Medicaid or private insurance, most sober living houses will not be covered by insurance. This is partly because most sober living houses are not treatment facilities, and therefore can’t be considered medically necessary, but also because part of the sober living philosophy is to help residents learn to become financially independent. Many homes will charge for rent, but do accept insurance for any psychiatric or counseling services they may offer. Make sure to find out what you are expected to pay for before you choose a sober home for yourself, and also ask about payment plans and financing. Some homes offer sliding scale fees that are based on your ability to pay.
You might consider borrowing money or selling assets to pay for sober living. This can be considered an investment in your future. A sober home will usually help you establish a steady income for yourself over time, so that you will eventually be able to take care of costs on your own.