What’s the Difference Between Rehab and Sober Living?

Rehab vs Sober Living

Residential treatment, or rehab as it’s known colloquially, is perhaps the most well-known form of addiction treatment. You sign into a program at a treatment clinic, living there and partaking in a preordained schedule, going through different treatment modalities based on what you respond to the most.

In some cases of addiction, medication is involved to help you wean off the drugs and get sober safely. In some cases, certain therapies are used while others are avoided. Residential treatment addresses the addiction first, then works with the individual to help them figure out why they turned to drugs in the first place, offering alternatives so they can continue living outside the clinic.

Sober living homes are different. The biggest difference is that a sober living home or community is essentially just that – a home or community – whereas residential treatment takes place in a clinic or treatment facility. Sober living communities provide a place to live without the temptation of drug use, while otherwise continuing with life in a normal fashion: going to work or school, engaging in hobbies, socializing, and taking care of chores. Both effectively share the same goal but utilize different methods. Both are effective for different reasons. And it’s best to use both: but in what order, and why?


What’s a Sober Living Home?

A sober living home is a drug-free facility where sober people live together according to a set of rules, otherwise enjoying all the usual freedoms they would otherwise enjoy. However, it’s the rules that make sober living different from regular living. While rules differ from place to place, there are general rules that most sober living facilities agree upon. These include:

  • No drugs.
  • Strict curfews.
  • Mandatory chores or contributions.
  • No violence.
  • Tenants must apply for work/school.

The spirit of a sober living home is to create a community where a tenant can live drug-free as long as they need to. Unlike other treatment facilities, sober living facilities have no limit on how long a person can stay at the home. These facilities are meant to help people reintegrate into normal living, by helping them remember what it means to be a responsible and accountable human being, while relying on healthier ways to deal with stress.


What’s Rehab?

Residential treatment or residential rehabilitation takes place in a rehab center/treatment center. Rehab is abstinence-based, just like sober living. It also relies on keeping people away from their usual circumstances by bringing them into drug-free environments, just like sober living. But there are many things that make rehab unique. Here are a few key differences:

Rehab centers usually work in stages, or programs. These are fixed for a certain number of weeks, working through a set program with a group of individuals. These programs represent timelines rather than strict guidelines, and individuals are still treated in a unique fashion corresponding to their needs and circumstances.

Rehab centers follow a myriad of philosophies, some approaching treatment utilizing the 12-step program, others following a religious or faith-based approach. Many rely on psychotherapy as a key part of the treatment process. Others adopt group therapy and therapeutic community practices, much like the 12 steps, but without the framework of the steps themselves.

Another thing that sets rehab centers apart is the detox process. Most sober living homes do not offer detox facilities – and while not all rehab centers provide detox, some do. Medically-guided detox may be necessary depending on how severely a person is addicted.


Going from Rehab into Sober Living

In most cases, it’s best to go from a residential treatment program into a sober living community. Residential treatment programs are extremely effective for breaking people out of an addiction, but it can be difficult to make the jarring transition back into an old life without relapsing.

Sober living can act as a buffer in between. Sober living homes often have no rules on how long a tenant stays as long as they continue to pay for rent, meaning you have freedom over how long you choose to stay in a sober living home before you go back to your old life, or move forward into a brand new one.

Going to rehab first and sober living second gives you the best of both worlds. But it’s not the only option.


Straight to Sober Living

Some people don’t need rehab. Rehab is perfect for breaking a severe addiction, and it’s not a bad idea to seek medical attention when working through withdrawal symptoms, but a sober living home can be enough to break an addiction if caught early enough. The point of sober living is to emulate normal life but without drugs, and sometimes that’s just what people need in order to get better and move on with their lives.

Addiction treatment begins in the mind, but there are treatment facilities that specialize in helping people tackle addiction in a way that best suits their needs and circumstances. There is such a thing as an ideal way to tackle an addiction, but that ideal is individual, and there are realities that stand in the way of offering everyone the best treatment possible.

Alternatives exist to offer reliable yet affordable ways to help people with addiction who may lack the time or resources to fully devote themselves to recovery – for example, outpatient programs exist for people who struggle with addiction, but cannot sign into a residential treatment program that would pull them away from work and life.

Rehab and sober living homes are not the only way to treat addiction. It’s possible to treat an addiction through outpatient programs and community resources, through group meetings or 12 step programs. Everyone’s path is different, but most people have more than one path to lasting sobriety. Before you choose a treatment plan for yourself, be sure to go over all your options. Consult a professional for a recommendation and go with what you think is your best shot at getting better.

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