More than 20 million Americans over the age of 12 have some type of addiction. Fatalities from overdose have tripled within the last 20 years, to an average of approximately a hundred overdose deaths per day.1 Statistics like this underscore the importance of taking positive steps to overcome your addiction and get the assistance you need.
There are many treatment options available that range from round-the-clock residential care to outpatient therapy. A sober living facility is an option that provides access to a support team while also allowing a certain amount of responsible freedom, which often makes a difference for individuals struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
What Is a Sober Living Facility?
A sober living facility is a residence that is essentially a group home for people recovering from addiction. These facilities provide a stable and relaxing environment for residents that support their ongoing efforts to maintain sobriety. Such facilities are also different from hospitals and rehab centers in that residents typically have some leeway with their daily routine, although there are still restrictions for the safety and sobriety of everyone living there.
Life in a Sober Living Facility
Residents are able go to work during the day. Some facilities require residents to work so they can relearn life skills as well as contribute to rent and expenses. Residents are typically required to take regular drug tests to confirm their sobriety while living at the facility. Any signs of not conforming to the program or not staying clean may result in eviction from the facility.
Sober living facilities are for anyone who is recovering from an addiction. Residents will be expected to follow certain rules while living in such a facility. There will be convenient access to an assortment of professionals, including counselors, staff therapists and usually a case manager who will coordinate treatment programs and routines. Some facilities provide access to psychotherapists, psychologists, spiritual counselors and biofeedback specialists.
A sober living facility isn’t for everyone, yet such facilities are supportive places for people looking to transition to a life of sobriety. Living within this type of environment can boost the odds of enjoying a lasting recovery, but it’s not a temporary solution or a quick fix. You need to be committed to taking the necessary steps to overcome your addiction. Realize it won’t be an overnight process. If you’re willing to make the effort, a sober living facility can provide the right level of support you need to achieve meaningful results.
When in the Recovery Process Do People Live in a Sober Living Facility?
Addiction is considered a chronic and relapsing disease because of the way long-term use of drugs and alcohol can affect the structure and chemistry of the brain. After prolonged substance abuse, a point is reached where it is no longer simply a choice to use or stop. For this reason, there are several stages involved with the recovery process.
Most sober living facilities will accept someone who is new to the rehab process, although some facilities have specific treatment requirements that must be met before someone is accepted to the program. There will be an initial meeting to determine if you are at a stage in your recovery where it would make sense to be a resident of a sober living facility.
At a minimum, you must be willing to adhere to house rules, actively participate in your treatment and be productive and involved while staying there. A sober living facility is ideal for someone who is at a stage in their recovery where they can be responsible for themselves.
Initial Withdrawal and Detox
A growing number of facilities prefer residents who have already completed the withdrawal and detox process. People going through these stages can have an assortment of physical reactions ranging from restlessness and anxiety to cold sweats and a rapid heartbeat.2 Constant monitoring is needed during this stage of recovery, and many facilities aren’t equipped to provide that level of care. Most facilities will not accept patients having difficulty with withdrawal and detox or those who are ill and unable to work or participate in treatment programs.
Commitment to Recovery
Residents need to be committed to remaining sober during their stay. This tends to be smoothest for those who have already had some counseling and have access to tools they can use to stay sober, including coping strategies. Most facilities prefer residents who have acknowledged that they have a problem.
Residents need to be committed to remaining sober during their stay.
A sober living facility isn’t a place where someone goes directly after an intervention if they’re still denying they even have a problem. When patients are at that stage, they’re not likely to do well with the structure of a sober living facility. Once there has been awareness and acknowledgment that a problem exists, many facilities will consider welcoming someone.
How Long Do People Typically Stay in a Sober Living Facility?
Sober living facilities don’t usually have a set period of time residents are required to stay. A full 90 days—at a minimum—is recommended by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in order to develop new, healthy habits and become prepared for daily living outside of a structured and sobriety-focused environment.3 Generally, residents are permitted to stay as long as it takes for them to feel comfortable transitioning back to a normal routine of their own.
The average length of time spent living in a sober living facility is typically anywhere from three to six months. Some residents do well with a shorter stay of about three months while others experience better results with staying for about a year. Numerous studies suggest that the longer a resident stays, the greater their odds are of enjoying a long-term recovery after leaving a sober living environment.
The average length of time spent living in a sober living facility is typically anywhere from three to six months.
When there is no set minimum for how long someone will be staying in a facility, residents can focus solely on dealing with their recovery instead of counting the days. It’s also a way to discourage comparisons with fellow residents and other distractions that could interfere with a resident’s focus on their goals.
The cost of a sober living facility is generally less than the average cost of an apartment in most areas. If possible, cost should never be the main reason to decide when to leave a facility. When cost is a concern, residents should bring this up during their initial meeting. Planning ahead by looking at such things as employment potential and learning how to manage money and create a budget can keep cost from becoming an obstacle to recovery.
A study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs noted that most residents living in the two sober living facilities involved in the study had maintained their abstinence.4 The implication is that living within such an environment without a specific time to leave tends to benefit residents looking to stay clean since the focus is on achieving positive results rather than biding time.
What to Expect: Do’s and Don’ts
Each sober living facility has a set of rules all residents must follow if they wish to stay. The purpose of a specific set of rules is to protect both the personnel working there and the residents, as such environments are meant to be a safe place for everyone. House rules will be clearly stated and are often given to potential new residents in writing. There are no negotiations with rules. Some things to expect that are common among sober living facilities include the following do’s and don’ts:
- Participate: A sober living facility isn’t going to benefit you if you don’t make an honest effort to participate in programs and activities. Take advantage of the insights the professionals there can share.
- Be Mindful of Your Health: Watch what you eat and take care of your overall health. Eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise can make it easier to handle stress and other physical and emotional issues associated with the recovery process.
- Allow Yourself to Have Some Fun: Being in a sober living facility isn’t punishment. There will be times when you will be able to watch TV, watch a movie together as a group, venture into the community to shop and get a haircut or participate in enjoyable activities like gardening or trips to the beach.
- Form a New Support Group: You’re going to need some level of support to remain clean and sober. Make an effort to form healthy new friendships, which can include establishing friendships with housemates and others you may encounter in the community.
- Expect to Perform Daily Chores: Appropriate chores are usually assigned to each resident. These chores will likely be performed when you return from work.
- Do Your Part to Contribute: Slacking off on chores or refusing to do anything productive to contribute will only create resentment and hostility among the other residents. If you continuously refuse to contribute, you may be asked to leave.
- Fight: Fighting with other residents is universally prohibited. This extends to any type of violence or violent behavior toward residents or staff members, and most likely extends to being disrespectful of other people’s space or their personal recovery process.
- Make Excuses for Failure: You are not predetermined to fail if you decide to spend some time in a sober living environment. Remain positive and never fall back on excuses or automatically assume you won’t succeed before making an effort.
- Expect Someone to Do Everything for You: A sober living facility isn’t a hotel or resort. Some facilities may have someone on staff to help with cooking and cleaning, but residents are generally encouraged to be active participants in the upkeep of the facility.
- Hold Back Your Concerns: A group meeting is typically a part of the routine at a sober living facility. During a daily meeting, you will be able to discuss positive issues and address any concerns you have that pertain to the group. If you have concerns specific to your treatment, speak one-on-one with your case manager.
- Get Involved Romantically with Residents: Most facilities strictly prohibit romantic relationships among residents, even in gender-specific programs. This is especially true of any such relationships with staff members or any of the other professionals who visit the facility on a regular basis.
Rules vary with each facility. There are some guidelines common throughout all sober living places, especially the rule against fighting and the requirement to participate and contribute. Residents must agree to follow all stated rules prior to moving into the facility. If any of the rules are violated, residents may have to make amends to another resident or staff member or perform extra chores. If the violation is serious, a resident would likely be asked to leave.
Tips for Success in Recovery After Your Stay
The purpose of spending time in a sober living facility is to incrementally relearn sober independence and lay the foundation for your recovery to continue after your stay. Reaching a point where you’re clean and sober is an accomplishment in itself, and you should be proud of any success you’ve had during your stay. You will eventually reach a point where you’ve formed new friendships and a strong support system so you can be entirely responsible for your actions and the consequences of those actions. Consider the following tips to remain successful in recovery after you leave:
Start Small with Establishing Friendships and Support
You may eventually develop a larger group of support, but focus on maintaining friendships with people you know you can trust. As you form new friendships, you’ll likely encounter other like-minded individuals who will become a part of your support group in time.
Re-Establish Healthy Relationships
You most likely damaged some relationships during your time struggling with addiction and dependency. It will be difficult to mend some of these relationships, although it’s not necessarily impossible. Start by establishing contact with someone who matters to you, and see if they are willing to rebuild the relationship with you. You can begin the process by making a phone call a few times a week or setting up an in-person meeting. If the person you want to communicate with is not ready, accept that fact and move on with your life and recovery.
Make Time to Give Back
As you reach a point where you are continuing to help yourself on a daily basis as you return to independence, make an effort to give back to others. Being involved with local charities and organizations can provide an added incentive for you to move forward with your recovery and remain clean and sober. There are plenty of community groups that would gladly welcome someone wishing to lend a hand or offer support to others with different needs.
Develop Healthy Habits
Healthy habits can give you a new purpose in life and help you refocus your energy. Regular exercise, for instance, releases so-called “feel good” chemicals called endorphins that help improve your mental clarity. Healthy habits that can help with your recovery include getting regular sleep and watching what you eat, as well as finding new hobbies to occupy your free time so you don’t reach a point where boredom becomes an excuse to return to previous behaviors. Meditation and activities such as yoga and Pilates can further enhance mind and body health.
Relapse Isn’t Failure
While relapse following a stay at a sober living facility isn’t high when you go by statistics, it does occasionally happen. If you find yourself having a setback, learn from it, recompose yourself and get yourself back on a path for recovery, which may include returning to a sober living facility for a time if the setback is severe enough.
Living in a sober living facility can be a productive and rewarding experience if you have the right outlook and perspective. Don’t expect to be cured—addiction of any kind is an ongoing struggle and a battle that’s won every single day.5 It will become easier once you have learned effective coping techniques and other methods for dealing with occasional temptations. Take advantage of your available resources and rely on support from friends and family to move forward with your recovery after leaving a sober living facility.
- Pollack, H. (2014, February 7). 100 Americans die of drug overdoses each day. How do we stop that? Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/02/07/100-americans-die-of-drug-overdoses-each-day-how-do-we-stop-that/
- Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. (2014, July). Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery
- Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition). (2012, December). Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment
- Polcin, D. L., Korcha, R., Bond, J., & Galloway, G. (2011, March 15). What Did We Learn from Our Study on Sober Living Houses and Where Do We Go from Here? Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 42(4), 425–433. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3057870/
- New Data Show Millions of Americans with Alcohol and Drug Addiction Could Benefit from Health Care R. (2010, September 28). Retrieved from http://www.drugfree.org/new-data-show-millions-of-americans-with-alcohol-and-drug-addiction-could-benefit-from-health-care-r/