How Do Sober Living Houses Work?

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A big worry among people coming to the end of their stay in a rehabilitation facility is how they will manage when they return to “the real world.” Recovery from drug and alcohol addiction is a lifelong process, after all, requiring support and accountability. Fortunately, those who leave rehab can continue their recovery journey by staying at a sober living house. But how do sober living houses work?

What is Sober Living?

Sober living is the period of transition from intensive addiction treatment to returning to mainstream society. People in sober living situations practice independent living. Meanwhile, their peers or supervising staff keep them accountable and help them reach full independent living without drugs or alcohol.

Sober living is designed for anyone who:

  • Wants more accountability in their recovery journey
  • Stepping down from an intensive inpatient or outpatient treatment program
  • Stepping up into a more structured but still independent house

Sober Living Houses, or SLHs, provide continuing care after an intensive addiction treatment program. These houses go by names like “transitional living” or “recovery residence programs.” Sober living houses are not halfway houses.

Levels of Support

One thing to look for when researching how sober living houses work is to look for the residents’ level of support. The 4 main levels of support are:

  • First: A house operated by a “peer council,” with few rules and requirements to stay there
  • Second: Paid staff monitors the house and requires residents to engage in a support group or therapy program
  • Third: Staff members supervise the house and require participation in a support group or therapy program
  • Fourth: House is run by a service provider and credentialed staff. The house also requires participation in a support group or therapy. Many level four houses offer in-house services and may integrate with clinical facilities.

The right sober living house will not just keep you from using drugs and alcohol. Last but not least, it will offer support and encouragement in the development of skills to live a happier and healthier life.

How exactly do sober living homes work

A History of Sober Living

Sober living houses date back almost 200 years. In the mid-1800s, institutions like the YMCA and the Salvation Army provided housing to people interested in getting sober and willing to attend religious services. With the growth of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in the 1940s, sober living houses began popping up nationwide.

These places addressed AA members’ concerns, as many had been evicted from their houses. Soon after, they became estranged from family and friends. In other words, so many AA members needed a place to stay and “get back on their feet” that they began living together.

Sober living houses took on greater importance in the 1970s and 1980s, as rising substance abuse combined with a lack of affordable housing in many cities. Different versions of the AA model began cropping up during this time. Thus, it was here that peer-run sober living houses came into being.

What is Sober Living Like?

What is sober living like? It is different from a stay in rehab. It’s also different from living in “the real world.” In sober living, residents live by a set of rules, such as completely abstaining from drugs and alcohol. They’re also likely to attend house meetings and carry out household chores, and undergo random drug screening.

They will also probably have a curfew and sign in and out of the house whenever residents come or go. If they’re a recent rehab graduate, they may be assigned to a senior member of the house. Lastly, this person will go with you whenever you leave the house.

A Typical Day at a Sober Living House

Mornings at a sober living house often start with daily chores like making the bed or cleaning the common bathroom. Afterwards, they may be expected to attend a house meeting or a counseling session outside of the house. Later in the day, they can search for employment or perform community service.

If individuals have a job, they’ll go to work as scheduled. In the evening, they’ll probably sit down for the evening meal with their housemates and participate in a support group session or house meeting. At night they’ll have time to call friends and family or watch TV.

How Do I Qualify for a Sober Living House?

There is no one regulatory body that calls the shots on how sober living houses work. Therefore, the question of how do I qualify for a sober living house depends on what kind of house that is preferred.

Most sober living houses allow residents to stay for as long as they want, so long as they can stay sober and continue to follow house rules. One National Library of Medicine study found that the average length of stay at a sober living house was 5 months, with about 18% of residents staying 12 months and 16% staying 18 months.

How do I qualify for a sober living house and how do they work

What are the Rules of Sober Living?

The first rule of sober living is—to stay sober. If someone is using substances while living in a sober living house, they are in violation of the most important rule of sober living. Consequently, they will probably be asked to leave. Virtually all sober living houses adhere to a few basic rules.

These rules are:

  • A set curfew
  • Respect fellow residents and staff
  • Participation in activities such as support meetings and household chores
  • No overnight guests
  • Participation in random drug and alcohol tests

Some SLHs allow pets and cellphones so long as they do not disturb other residents. Others, in contrast, prohibit pets and cellphones because they can act as “triggers” leading to relapse. If having a pet or cellphone with you at a sober living house is important to you, be sure to ask about the rules of the house.

What to Look For in a Sober Living House

When thinking about how sober living houses work, it’s important to remember what their main purpose is. This purpose is to provide a healthy transition from the structured environment of a rehab facility to independent living. Therefore, things to look for in a sober living house should be things that will help move toward the goal of independent living.

Some qualities of a sober living house you will want to look for are:

  • Structure. By and large, the more structured an environment is the less danger of relapse. Find a SLH that implements not just a daily routine, but rules designed to lower the risk of relapse, such as mandated curfews.
  • Strong safety measures. Be sure to ask about technology and measures used by the facility to ensure the physical safety of all residents. Also, ask about the surrounding neighborhood.
  • A strong support system. Before deciding on a sober living house, pay attention to the “vibe” of the place, including how residents and staff are behaving. A positive environment is crucial when it comes to working toward your recovery goals.
  • Transportation options. Transportation plays a large part in the daily lives of SLH residents. Therefore, the location of the residence is a key factor. Also, if the SLH does not offer transportation, check out whether it is located near a public transit depot.
  • Value. While it’s possible to find affordable SLH options, understand that you get what you pay for. A low-cost facility may not be worth it if you’re not getting the support you need to stay sober.

While other considerations can factor into your decision, these guidelines can serve as a starting point when searching for a sober living house. Just like an addiction treatment program, a sober living facility must be structured to serve everyone’s unique needs and recovery goals.

Sober Living in Los Angeles

Want to know more on how sober living houses work? Consider continuing your recovery after rehab at our sober living homes in Los Angeles and Redondo Beach. Our houses provide a safe, caring, supportive, and structured environment with educational and career opportunities for our residents. We also make it easy for you to continue outpatient and aftercare programs, including group sessions, individual therapy, and health and wellness education.

To learn more about our sober living homes or how to become a resident, feel free to contact us.


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