The concept of sober living is simple yet has been effective for several decades. While rehab business began to flourish in the 60s and 70s after researchers and medical professionals began to understand the importance of environment in treating addiction, there also came a need for an alternative, both in terms of cost as well as commitment and format.
Inpatient residential treatment programs were usually costly and involved staying in a single specialized treatment facility among other recovering addicts for up to 90 days, with an average stay of about 30 days. Meanwhile, outpatient programs offered an alternative to those who simply couldn’t up and leave their life, but knew they needed professional help, nonetheless. Halfway houses were another format but were also highly limited in terms of how long someone could stay at the house, and what they would be able to do for their recovery.
In came the format of the sober living home. Sober living homes are arranged in such a way that there is no set program, no specific curriculum, and nothing explicitly separating the sober living home from any other apartment or community – except for a set of simple and very strict rules that transform it from any other place in the neighborhood, into a drug-free environment that places a premium on accountability, maintaining responsibilities, and learning to reintegrate into a society centered around individual contributions to a greater whole.
In a way, among the aforementioned formats, sober living homes give a recovering addict the best environment for legitimate individual growth and improvement. Sober living homes recognize that sobriety, for recovering addicts, is more than just “not using” – it’s a shot at completely turning your life around for the better. People don’t get many life-changing events but deciding to get clean is one of them.
What Is Sober Living?
Sober living homes or communities are built on the basic premise that many who go through addiction treatment programs still require the need for help in staying abstinent and sober. Rather than impose a strict program with a set structure and schedule, sober living homes usually only rely on a handful of rules. The basic ones are:
- Sober living homes are drug-free. Alcohol and drugs are strictly forbidden, and drug testing is mandatory in some homes.
- There is no on-site formal treatment in most sober living homes, although it’s normal to have psychiatrists and therapists on staff. However, treatment outside of the sober living environment – either one-on-one or in a group setting – is highly encouraged.
- There is a curfew, and tenants are not allowed to bring guests over past a certain timeslot.
- Residents are responsible for keeping the place clean, chores are distributed evenly, each resident needs to pay rent (and can stay as long as they choose to, provided they do their part), and certain house meetings are mandatory.
- Tenants/residents must look for work or have a job. If they’re too young to work, they must go to school.
- Finally, sober living homes can and will throw someone out for refusing to comply with house rules, past a point.
The idea is simple – by giving recovering addicts minimal structure and a drug-free environment, they can continue to grow without the temptation of drug use and make headway in their recovery. This can be through work, a passion they have, a therapeutic breakthrough, or any number of factors that may help them move on past their addiction to the point that they feel ready to leave. And they can choose to leave whenever they please.
Sober living homes started in California, and most are still predominantly in the state. However, the concept has caught on and spread in other parts of the country as well.
More Than a Program
The biggest difference between sober living and other treatment forms is also the reason it’s the most transformative. Programs are a big and important part of helping someone in early recovery make it through some of the hardest portions of getting sober, but it’s ultimately the “safe” freedom offered by sober living homes that help someone in recovery figure out who they want to be now that they’re sober, and what they want to do now that they have the option to focus entirely on their work, their passions, and their future without drug use.
There is no program, not in the same sense as there would be in other settings. Patients don’t have to go through the motions or try to make as much progress as possible within a set time limit. They’re given the ability to progress and grow at their own pace, to make progress whenever they can, to stumble and fail and get right back onto the horse.
Moving Past Sober Living
There is a time to move past sober living homes as well. That time is when a tenant or resident feels they are ready to live on their own or with friends/family. When a person has managed to maintain a certain level of self-discipline and can continue to dedicate themselves to both their work and their personal lives without having to sacrifice either for an addiction or the thought of returning to old habits, they can move onto the next challenge.
But that doesn’t mean recovery is over. Not at all. Sober living is but just one more step in the journey through recovery, and that’s one that can last a lifetime. That’s not a bad thing. Because what is life, if not a journey from one adventure to the next? And what are adventures, if not a series of obstacles and challenges to be faced, and conquered?
Is Sober Living for You?
Sober living can be your first foray into committed sobriety, or it can be what you need after a relapse. It could be that you’re feeling tempted and just want a safe place to be. Or it could be that you’ve been struggling with recovery on and off, and just need a place to stay where you know you’re going to be away from drugs, not for a month, but for a year or longer if need be.
Sober living is for anyone who needs it, and its simplicity makes it very effective. But it could also not be what you need. It’s generally a better idea to start with a more rigorous, guided, and structured rehab program if you’re just looking for help. Sober living is more oriented towards people who know that they just need to keep moving forward, rather than being for those who have completely lost every sense of direction.