Making the shift from addiction to sobriety happens in stages, and requires ongoing commitment. Sober living generally refers to the period of time after an official drug and alcohol rehab program ends, when a recovering drug addict or alcoholic is transitioning back into society.
Sober living homes (also known as halfway houses) are group houses created specifically for people going through addiction recovery. These homes have strict rules and guidelines, and stress sobriety and community. Many of those getting over drug or alcohol addiction use sober living homes as a way to transition safely from rehab centers to living fully independently.
What are sober living homes (halfway houses), and who runs them?
A sober living home (or halfway house) is a group residence for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. Some are owned by charity or nonprofit organizations, while others are privately run. They are usually located in safe, peaceful neighborhoods, to give those in residence the chance to heal and recover in peace and quiet.
Halfway houses and other sober living homes require those living there to commit to certain rules to maintain a sober-friendly environment. The most important rule is that people in the house must stay sober. Absolutely no drug or alcohol use is allowed, and many houses will conduct drug tests to ensure sobriety.
Sober living houses may also have residents commit to being home by a certain time (a curfew), or mandate that those in residence work during the day. Some require residents to do chores to contribute to the household, facilitating the sense of community and also helping teach and emphasize individual and shared responsibilities. Some may require residents to attend 12-step meetings (or other alcohol or drug addiction treatment) on a weekly basis.
Unlike drug and alcohol rehab centers, as long as those in the house follow the rules, they're free to come and go as they wish.
Who can live in a sober living home (halfway house)?
The majority of those who come to sober living or halfway houses have already attended a drug or alcohol rehab program, and some homes require this. This is in part to ensure that if a person was heavily addicted, they've undergone medical drug and/or alcohol detox.
That said, most sober living and halfway houses don't limit who can apply to live there. Many halfway houses and other sober living facilities will also accept those newer to the drug and alcohol rehab process, as long as they're able to commit to the rules of the house and stay sober.
What are the rules at halfway houses?
Those committing to living in a sober living facility must agree to certain rules upon move-in. Different houses have different rules, and different consequences for breaking them. For example, violating a rule could mean a resident has to pay a fine, or if it involves an altercation with another resident, it could mean writing a letter or otherwise make amends with that person. In other instances, a resident may be told they need to leave the house for breaking a rule.
The hard and fast rule in all halfway houses and sober living facilities is that residents maintain sobriety. Alcohol and drug use is absolutely prohibited. Some houses ban certain kinds of mouthwash or ingredients in the kitchen, such as vanilla extract. This is because it's possible to get drunk or high on these items, and also because since they contain alcohol, consuming them can lead to false positives on a drug test (which residents can be subjected to on a regular basis).
Residents are often required to go to school or work during the day, and some houses enforce curfews. Those in the house may be required to complete chores. No one is allowed to behave violently towards other residents or staff, and fighting is similarly not tolerated. If there are disagreements, depending on the severity, residents may be required to make reparations in the form of an essay or letter describing their responsibility in it and an apology. Again, the purpose of the house is to ensure a safe environment for those in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, and to help recovering addicts practice the skills needed for living productively and smoothly in the "real world".
What do sober living homes (halfway houses) help with?
First and foremost, sober living homes give those recovering from addiction a safe, stable, and relatively low-cost place to live. The cost of living in a halfway house ranges; some charge as little as $100-$300 a month, while others can be up to $2,000 per month. In general, they're on the lower end ($450-$750), since the idea is to support those in addiction recovery and make it easy for them to have access to a sobriety-friendly environment. Residents must pay their rent on time, but are almost never required to pay first and last month's rent.
Second, those in sober living facilities learn to be responsible for themselves - an important step in recovery. Drug and alcohol addiction often prompts people to act irresponsibly, and it's common for loved ones to enable this kind of behavior. People living in sober homes must pay their own rent, purchase their own food, and generally support themselves the same way they would if they were living totally independently. They're also responsible for their interactions with others in the house, in an environment that encourages maturity, trust, and respect.
Third, sober homes provide access to community. Everyone living in the house has something important in common (their commitment to being free of drug and alcohol addiction), and they can both receive and give support to each other in this capacity. Because recovering addicts must sometimes limit contact or communication with those from their old life, it can be particularly helpful to have access to new friends who are equally as committed to clean, healthy living as they are.
If you or a loved one is on the road to recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction - especially if you're coming out of an intensive drug and alcohol rehab center - a sober living home could be a good option. Places like halfway houses provide structure, support, and community for those who are still in a somewhat vulnerable stage of recovery (post-rehab).
Because residents can maintain a normal schedule (attend school or go to work) while in a sober living home, it makes it easier to transition to substance-free independent living, but with the ability to get help when needed.
Substance abuse treatment and recovery takes many forms, including what happens after one's time at a drug and alcohol rehab center ends. Adjusting to life without one's drug or alcohol addiction can be a challenge, and having a stable, clean living environment makes it more likely that sobriety will last, leading to a sustainable, effective, and enduring recovery.