Maybe you or a loved one has started noticing some troubling patterns. Drinking or using other substances might be impacting your ability to take care of your responsibilities like work, school, or parenting. Maybe you’ve started drinking longer or more frequently than you intended to, or maybe you feel you’ve been spending too much time sick from the aftereffects. No matter what is bringing you toward recovery, you’ll have to ask an important question: What is sober living?
This probably doesn’t seem like a very difficult question for many people. In the broadest sense, this should be a fairly easy question to answer, right? Sober living is existing without the use of substances. However, the answer to “what is sober living” has many more facets than might first meet the eye.
We’re here to take you through some of them. We’ll go over some of the different settings where sober living takes place, and we’ll try to make sense of it all. From inpatient programs to sober houses and beyond, this article attempts to be as thorough as possible in answering the central question: What is sober living? Let’s find out together.
What is sober living like in an inpatient program?
This kind of setting is where many people begin a sober living journey. It’s the most intensive form of treatment, and it’s likely where many people first start asking, “What is sober living?”
Inpatient settings are medical facilities where those participating in the program spend the night, receiving various types of treatment throughout the day. These include different types of therapies and potentially medications, as well. Sober living in this kind of a setting is fairly tightly controlled by your treatment team — the doctors, nurses, therapists, and other staff of the facility. Mixing and matching the approaches that are best for your specific needs will help you build your own vision of what sober living is for you.
Different Approaches to Sober Living
We’ve written pretty extensively about those different types of approaches in the past, which you can read here. In the interest of brevity, we’ll only cover the different ways you might approach sober living in an inpatient program in broad strokes. There are lots of different types of therapies out there to help you reach lasting sober living. You’ll likely participate in both group and individual counseling sessions during your stay in an inpatient program. Some types of therapies stem from traditional talk therapy approaches, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Others are experiential forms, like art or music therapy.
If you’re not already familiar with them, inpatient programs might sound a bit like sober houses since they both involve taking up a new residence in order to pursue sober living. We’ll talk more about sober houses in the next section, but for right now, it’s just important to know that these two settings have a big difference: Inpatient programs are formal, clinical treatment while sober houses are more organic and less structured. As no two people have the same exact needs, some might be better suited to sober houses while others thrive in inpatient programs, and vice versa.
Your treatment team should be able to customize their approach to what works best for you. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question, “What is sober living?”
What is sober living like in sober houses?
We promised more information about sober houses in the last section, and that’s exactly what you’re going to get here. Sober houses (also known as transitional housing, halfway houses, and many other names) are a natural place to start inquiring about sober living. It is in the name, after all. Typically, sober houses are best suited for people who have already completed an initial course of treatment (usually inpatient). They already know what sober living is, and they’re committed to it, but they need a little more structure before returning to their regular lives.
That’s where sober houses come in. The offerings at these programs vary from facility to facility, but they usually entail some combination of the types of therapies and treatments you’d see at a traditional rehab facility mixed with life skills training and more unstructured free time. Sober houses are always residential programs, meaning you’ll be spending the night at the house for a given period of time.
If you’re interested in more information on sober houses, we’ve written about them in more detail here.
What is sober living like in outpatient programs?
Outpatient programs vary quite a bit between different providers. You might find an intensive outpatient treatment program, for example, is a totally different world to more regular outpatient programs. What they all have in common is that they aren’t residential settings. This means participants will go to their own homes after treatment, having a lot more freedom than they would have in similar inpatient settings. It’s also not like sober houses where you’re constantly surrounded by people in similar circumstances.
So, sober living in outpatient programs is its own beast entirely. Let’s talk about intensive outpatient treatments first. Those kinds of programs are often all day, multiple days out of the week.
Regular outpatient treatment is a little more relaxed. You’ll still have access to professionals who can help you answer all the big questions you might have, like “what is sober living, and how do I get there?” The biggest difference is the time commitment. It might only be an hour or so per week, depending on your needs. This means you’ll be spending a lot of time navigating a sober lifestyle on your own. A treatment plan like this can be ideal for someone who’s already successfully completed an inpatient program, or for someone with a less severe substance use disorder.
What is sober living like in the “real world”?
Of course, it’s not quite fair to deem all of the settings we’ve looked at up until this point as not “real,” but there’s definitely a difference between the structure of a program and the lack of guidance outside of one. There are a lot of steps you can take to make sober living more attainable outside the walls of treatment or sober houses.
Keep good company.
First, you’ll want to reevaluate your friendships from before you started pursuing sobriety. Who in your life is going to support your choice to discontinue using substances or drinking? Definitely stick close to them and have them help you out where they can. But also consider who is going to be a bad influence on you. Who is going to remind you of bad habits and potentially encourage you to fall back into old patterns of behavior? It’s incredibly difficult, but you have to distance yourself from those types of people as much as you can. You might think there’s a possibility that they’ll come to you and ask, “What is sober living like? How do I join you?” If that ever happens, you should point them in the right direction, but until then, people who are still using are not friends.
Cutting off bad influences is just as important as building a strong support system of new ones. It can be difficult to make new friends when you’re committed to sober living — so many social events involve drinking. Try joining activities or groups where drinking and substances aren’t involved. Support groups for your specific kind of substance use disorder are always a great option for meeting people who are also working on sobriety.
Get a fresh start.
You might also be asking yourself, “What is sober living to me, and how can I make it easier for myself?” Another step you can take might be moving. Getting a fresh start somewhere new can make it harder to return to old haunts and old friends. This is one reason why you might want to attend treatment somewhere other than your hometown. Sober houses and similar programs are available in most major cities and metropolitan areas, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find one that suits your needs.
Another part of this new beginning might be finding a new job. This might be a necessity, as not everyone has a job waiting for them on the other side of their drug or alcohol treatment. Even if you could go back to your old job, though, sometimes it’s better to find a different one. Many programs have some type of vocational support, helping participants develop employable skills as well as resumes and job interview strategies.
Have a plan for relapses.
Many people think that once they go through an initial round of treatment, recovery is a straight, upward line. This often isn’t the case in the real world. Relapsing, or drinking or using a substance after committing to sobriety, is very common. The important part is knowing where to turn for further support when a relapse happens. There’s nothing to be ashamed about, and it’s not true that continuing treatment after a relapse means you’re starting back at square one. You can use everything you’ve learned about yourself and about the nature of addiction up to this point to inform your decisions going forward.
All of these steps go together — having the right support system in place will make it easier to decide who to go to if you have a relapse. Your trusted people shouldn’t meet you with any kind of judgment, just a willingness to help. Making sure you have those types of people in your life is a huge part of maintaining sober living in the long run.
How can I support someone pursuing sober living?
If you’ve come to this article because you’re trying to educate yourself on behalf of a loved one who’s starting out on a recovery journey, you might be wondering what role you can play in terms of helping them.
First of all, you’ll need your own support. There are various support groups out there for the loved ones of people who choose sober living, and you should join them if you feel comfortable. You might also be invited to participate in family counseling sessions, especially if your loved one is in inpatient treatment. That treatment team can be a good source of information for you, as well. Treatment centers will often offer some form of educational program for the families of those participating in their programs. That way, you can learn about the nature of addiction and be better equipped to support your loved one on their recovery journey.
In terms of the other ways you can support someone who has chosen sober living, we’ve sort of already touched on some good advice in previous sections. Don’t drink or use substances around your loved one, and try to make sure they can come to you without fearing judgment in the event of a relapse. Facilitate their participation in their treatment program when possible — for example, can you offer to watch their kids or pets while they go to treatment or a support group meeting? Some of these acts might seem small, but they can make a big difference.
Now you’ve got the answers.
So, now you don’t have to ask, “What is sober living?” You already know the answer — and a lot more where that came from, too. Looking at all the different settings where sober living can happen, we’ve thoroughly gone over the answer to, “What is sober living?” From inpatient treatment centers to sober houses and beyond, we’ve attempted to be as in-depth as possible. We also extended our answer beyond just describing sober living; we also attempted to explain how a support system fits into all of this.
If you’ve decided you want to pursue sober living, feel free to reach out to us here at Harris House. We’d love to have a conversation with you about how one of our programs might be a good fit, and if you have any questions other than, “what is sober living,” we’d love to try and get them answered, so don’t hesitate to reach out.