For many of those who struggle with addiction and are going into recovery, a sober living program can be an important connecting step on the long road to sobriety.
We frequently talk about the differences between inpatient and outpatient treatment. Inpatient treatment is a jumping-off point for treatment that gets people through the worst parts of their recovery. It involves getting living at a specialized facility where addiction treatment is administered.
Most inpatient facilities are 24-hour treatment facilities that administer both pharmaceutical and therapeutic treatments for substance addiction, while simultaneously maintaining a controlled, sober living environment. This allows people who are struggling with the early stages of recovery to get their bearings without having to deal with the constant pull of temptation.
Meanwhile, outpatient treatment involves regular treatment for addiction, but without the dedicated living space. This is a somewhat less-intensive form of treatment, for those who have an easier time trusting themselves with the threat of temptation.
Bridging the Gap Between Inpatient and Outpatient
Problem is, the gap between inpatient treatment – which can last as little as four weeks – and outpatient treatment can be a broad one. Too broad, in fact. Simply put, there are lots of people who spend 28 days in rehab only to go right back to their previous environment and fall right back into their old habits.
Addiction isn’t just something you do because it’s available. Once it sets in, it permeates every part of your life, to the point where the substance use that drives it is not just addictive, it’s routine, like waking up for work in the morning or eating dinner at a certain time. It throws the rest of the day off when those things don’t happen on schedule.
Addictive substance abuse is like that, only amplified by a factor of about a thousand. And sending people back to the same environment that made that substance abuse a habit in the first place can be incredibly counterproductive. Simply put, a few weeks of rehab isn’t enough to change long-standing attitude and habits.
That’s why sober environments like this exist – to bridge that difficult gap between inpatient and outpatient treatment and give people someplace to go during the transition. Providing aftercare is crucially important to a successful recovery, and this is one of the best places for it.
So let’s discuss what a sober living program actually is (and isn’t), and how it can be a vital step in addiction recovery.
What Are Sober Living Homes, and Who Can They Help?
Simply put, sober living homes are exactly what they sound like. They are places that provide recovering addicts with a safe, drug-free environment to continue their aftercare.
“But wait,” you might ask. “Isn’t that just the same thing as an inpatient program?”
Well, partially. But not quite. See, a full inpatient or “residential” program is a place where recovering patients can (and are expected to) live full-time. But while they live there, they are also receiving treatment at the same time. Sober living homes provide a clean living environment that helps people work out of their more destructive habits, but they do not, themselves, provide actual treatment.
There are usually rules and structure, as well as recovery meetings among all the residents at the facility. Sober living programs often help get individuals with reconnecting with work or school, as well as connecting with an outpatient recovery program.
Sober living homes also perform regular drug tests, to keep residents honest. Naturally, drugs, alcohol, and other addictive substances are banned from the premises. Frequently, so are overnight visitors. So it definitely isn’t a place you can simply do as you please. There is a certain structure and order that may be necessary for developing good habits for later in your recovery.
Who Goes to Sober Living Programs?
Most of the people living in a sober living program are enrolled in treatment or attending a 12-step program. The facility itself is a place where people can live free of the influences that may drive them back into the grip of their addiction.
But beyond that, these homes provide only indirect support for those in recovery. Still, that indirect support makes all the difference.
See, addiction creates a number of systemic problems in a person’s life. As we’ve discussed already, simply being around those problems can make it easy to slide back into substance abuse, whether that’s the intention or not.
For those who simply aren’t ready to go home after inpatient rehab, or in more dire cases, for those who no longer have a home to go back to, this can be a good middle ground. The cost is lower than staying at an inpatient rehab, but it provides the same safety net of being removed from temptation and supported by those who understand your pain.
It’s a great option for those who want to stay clean, but are worried about whether they can trust themselves around temptation just yet.
Do Sober Living Programs Actually Work?
Okay, so is there any actual evidence that these recovery homes actually work? Or is it just a place for people to hang out without getting any help?
There actually is both empirical and anecdotal evidence the sober environments make a significantly positive difference in the recovery process, though there are a number of caveats.
Obviously, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for addiction, and so sober living environments aren’t necessarily right for everyone. However, generally speaking, people who enroll in sober living homes tend to show better results over time.
And that doesn’t just mean improved addiction recovery. Those who take this step are more likely to:
- stay sober for longer
- stay sober more consistently
- have a lower overall rate of relapse
- hold a consistent job after recovery
- stay out of legal trouble
Now, the reasons for those outcomes are debatable and variable, and we’re not suggesting direct causation, but there is certainly a strong correlation.
How to Get the Most Out of Sober Living
As we said, there are some caveats. First off, the length of your stay is important, as it is in any stage of rehab. Addiction recovery is something that takes a long time, and you have to plan for that accordingly.
Addiction literally changes your brain chemistry in ways that are at least partially irreversible. It requires behavioral therapy to root out and identify the issues triggering your addictive behaviors, then work on strategies to deal with them.
That’s not something you can do in a week. It takes a long time just to build up an element of trust to start working on those issues. Good habits don’t just become habits overnight, and bad habits don’t just disappear because you want them to. It takes consistent, sustained effort to change those impulses your brain is sending out.
If you fail to spend an appropriate amount of time in a recovery facility, you risk undoing that work before it has really taken root. And that’s to say nothing of the effects of the personal connections you’ll be missing out on.
How You Can Use Sober Living Homes to Improve Your Recovery
Lots of people mistakenly believe they’re “cured” of addiction about the time the withdrawals and detox are over.
Nothing could be further from the truth. You’ll likely be fighting the good fight against addiction for the rest of your life. That’s the bad news. The good news is, every day you stay sober, that’s a battle you’ve won. And each battle you win makes the war a little easier.
But it takes some work to get to that point. Losing a battle by relapsing? That sets you back quite a bit. And that’s okay – it happens. Relapse is just another part of recovery, as long as you don’t give up on yourself.
But the best way to beat a relapse is to prevent it. And the best way to prevent a relapse is to have the understand of when it’s coming.
Let’s say someone is a recovering alcoholic, just out of inpatient rehab. If they head straight back to their normal routine, how long is it going to be before they’re out with all their old drinking buddies? Being the only one without a drink in a crowd of drinking friends can be very stressful, and it can change the nature of those relationships very quickly.
In that situation, if they don’t truly understand their triggers and have a countermeasure in place, there’s a good chance that the evening ends with them off the wagon.
A sober living environment gives people a place to avoid those kinds of situations, until they’ve been through enough treatment to know how to avoid or properly deal with those situations.
So how about you? Do you have any experience with recovery homes, be it your own, or a friend or family member? What are your thoughts on sober living facilities as a part of the recovery process? Leave us a comment below and let us know what you think.
Polcin, D. L., & Henderson, D. (2008, June). A Clean and Sober Place to Live: Philosophy, Structure, and Purported Therapeutic Factors in Sober Living Houses. Retrieved May 08, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2556949/
Polcin, D. L., Korcha, R., Bond, J., & Galloway, G. (2010, December). What Did We Learn from Our Study on Sober Living Houses and Where Do We Go from Here? Retrieved May 08, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3057870/
Polcin, D. L., Korcha, R. A., Bond, J., & Galloway, G. (2010, June). Sober Living Houses for Alcohol and Drug Dependence: 18-Month Outcomes. Retrieved May 08, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2860009/
Sober living houses. (2017, April 12). Retrieved May 08, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sober_living_houses