Many of us are pretty familiar with inpatient rehab at this point, and outpatient programs aren’t too hard to wrap your head around. But understanding how sober living homes work is a little bit tougher of a task for some of us. It’s not as common of a phrase, after all.
Here, we endeavor to answer all parts of the question, “How do sober living homes work?” We’ll cover the basic definition of these facilities, and then we’ll dive deeper into how they benefit their residents and whether they might be a good fit for you.
Embarking on a recovery journey is often an intimidating process. Learning everything you can about different parts of the process can help you feel more prepared to prioritize your wellbeing and seek treatment. That’s why we’re here to give you some important information about one of your options. So, if you’ve ever wondered what a substance abuse halfway house was, or asked yourself, “How do sober living homes work?” we’ve got some answers for you here. Let’s dive in.
So, how do sober living homes work, anyway? What even are they?
We imagine you’re asking some version of those questions right about now. We’ve already waxed pretty poetic about their importance, but we’ve neglected to give a clear definition up until this point. Let’s fix that.
Sober living homes are places where people in recovery can live for a while, typically after an inpatient treatment program. These residences have rules, which will vary from place to place, and they endeavor to offer a supportive environment for people who have begun their recovery journey but aren’t yet ready to live completely independently. The hope is that with a period of extra support at a substance abuse halfway house or other sober living home, residents will learn the skills to be self-sufficient and maintain sobriety on their own.
This support comes in a lot of different forms. Some sober living situations offer life skills classes where you might learn to cook, for example. Others will have extensive career support, helping their residents get back out into the workforce. Most of them will encourage participation in a relevant support group or 12-step program.
A Sober Living Home by Any Other Name…
You’ve probably heard several different terms for this kind of residence. A substance abuse halfway house, transitional housing, recovery housing, and many more near synonyms come to mind. It’s hard to define these terms as super distinct from each other because each program has its own unique characteristics. Oftentimes, though, the term “halfway house” is used in a different context, meaning a place where people live after they complete a prison sentence but before they return to the wider world. We’re not discussing that type of halfway house here. As we said, most aspects will vary from program to program, and unless a substance abuse halfway house specifically states who they accept as residents, then it’s not a given that they only take people who are getting out of prison. It could be worth a call to find out for sure.
This is all to say that you might see sober living homes called lots of different variations of that name, and while there are distinctions between each program, they’re subtle enough to still lump most of these programs under one umbrella. To answer the question of “how do sober living homes work” doesn’t really require splitting hairs between these different types of residences, so we’ve elected to treat them as one collective type of program. Just don’t assume that all programs will operate exactly the same.
Benefits of Sober Living Homes
For those who decide to spend some time in a substance abuse halfway house, there will be plenty of benefits. Let’s look at just a few of them.
- Training: In addition to continued support in terms of substance abuse treatment, you might also get to participate in classes for life skills like cooking or finding a job. Substance abuse halfway houses and other types of sober living homes can help you learn to live a self-sufficient, healthy lifestyle.
- A place to stay: Some people are able to tie up loose ends and have their home looked after while they’re in inpatient treatment, and they’re able to pick up pretty much where they left off when they return. Some people are in a very different situation. If you’re not going to have anywhere to return to after your inpatient rehab stint, then you should definitely wonder how sober living homes work, and you should see about your options for getting into one.
- Building a community: It’s important to make sure the people around you have your best interest at heart and are committed to helping you stay sober, especially early on in your recovery. This means thinking long and hard about the existing relationships in your life when you exit an inpatient rehab program. Many people make the difficult decision to cut harmful influences out of their lives, and that’s a great first step, but you’re also going to need new friends and a new support system to help you stick to the plan. That’s one of the reasons a substance abuse halfway house can be so beneficial. You’ll be surrounded by people who are going through a very similar situation, and you’ll all be committed to the same goal.
Is a sober living home right for you?
If you’re getting out of an inpatient program, there should be plenty of discussion between you and your treatment team about what the next steps for you will look like. It’s important for aftercare to be considered before you even enter treatment. You want to make sure the treatment program you’re participating in cares for your entire being — all aspects of your health are important to think about, and they should be making plans for what happens after your initial treatment.
We’ll go over the different types of people who typically benefit from a sober living situation or substance abuse halfway house in a later section. For right now, just know that if any of this sounds appealing, look into it. If you’re interested in a substance abuse halfway house, you should ask the professionals working with you about them. They’ll be able to give you the best recommendations because of their familiarity with your specific circumstances. Asking them, “How do sober living homes work?” could be a great conversation starter.
How do sober living homes work in terms of length of stay?
You might be wondering how long most people stay at a substance abuse halfway house or sober living home. After all, the idea isn’t to be there forever; the goal is to get you out into the world on your own terms. Each program will have a different policy when it comes to length of stay. Some will allow you to stay for as long as you’d like, as long as you’re following the rules.
The oft-cited average is between 166 and 254 days, which means about five and a half to eight and a half months. Some people stay for a year or more. It’s less important to compare yourself to the average and more important to speak to the professionals you’re working with about what’s working for you. If you and your medical professionals agree that you’re still benefiting from the program, then you should be able to continue on without issue.
While there isn’t an exact length of time that everyone should stay in one of these programs, you definitely shouldn’t leave before you’re ready. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 90 days of treatment is a fair general starting point for people beginning a recovery journey, regardless of treatment type. However, this is dependent on the type of substance use disorder at hand, and NIDA also recommends longer treatment for seeing lasting positive results. The basic idea is that you shouldn’t try to get out of treatment as quickly as you can; you’re not going to see those positive outcomes if you don’t stay in treatment long enough for your specific needs.
What kind of rules are in place at sober living homes?
Again, the exact specifics will vary a lot from program to program. A common house rule is curfew — you’ll have to be back home by a certain time each day.
One of the key answers to, “How do sober living homes work?” is an explanation of the rules. Without these guidelines in place, there wouldn’t be much support or structure, which is the whole point of living in a substance abuse halfway house or sober living home instead of on your own. The rules aren’t in place to punish or annoy you; they’re there to give you some of the structure of formal treatment in the hopes that it makes it a little bit easier for you to continue your commitment to remaining sober.
How do sober living homes work, and who do they work best for?
While many sober living homes and substance abuse halfway houses teach skills that would benefit anyone, certain segments of the population tend to be more in need of their services than others. Here are a few examples.
- People who don’t have a strong support system at home: As we already discussed, moving into a sober living house is a great way to meet a bunch of individuals who are also committed to remaining sober, and building a positive community in that way benefits a lot of people. This is especially true of people who are in extra need of that support system because they don’t have one at home to fall back on.
- Those who deal with other mental or physical conditions on top of their substance use disorder: Cooccurring mental health concerns are fairly common among people seeking substance abuse treatment, and those need to be treated alongside the substance use disorder. Those other conditions can make returning to normal life after a period of inpatient treatment rather difficult, so having transitional options like a substance abuse halfway house can be helpful.
- People who have been through inpatient treatment multiple times: Relapses are rather common, and many people go through multiple rounds of treatment before reaching lasting sobriety. Considering how sober living homes work, they can be a good choice for those who need a little extra support.
- Those who aren’t receptive to treatment: Because substance abuse halfway houses aren’t typical, formal treatment, they might be good alternatives for people who aren’t good candidates for those types of programs. Of course, always consult your doctor and the medical professionals who are familiar with your circumstances before you decide on what treatment programs are the best fit for your needs.
How do sober living homes work during the intake process? How do I get into one?
As we’ve said many times already, there’s no one answer to, “How do sober living homes work?” Each program operates under its own slightly different rules. The intake process is no different. Some programs might only accept clients who have already completed an inpatient stay at a connected facility, or they might give them a higher priority on the waitlist. Others are more open.
The best place to start is usually just reaching out to a program you’re interested in and asking some questions. If they think you might be a good fit, they’ll likely ask you some of their own. Each program is going to have a different list of requirements. You might be placed on a waitlist, as these tend to be in fairly high demand.
Now you’ve got all the answers to, “How do sober living homes work?”
It’s totally fair to wonder how sober living homes work at first — after all, most of us don’t encounter them in our day-to-day lives. By now, though, you don’t need to wonder. We’ve gone through most of the major components of substance abuse halfway houses and sober living homes — how you get in, what goes on there, who they benefit, and all kinds of other basic information about these important places.