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How to choose a sober living home

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Treatment for Three Decades and Counting

If you or a loved one is experiencing addiction, we’re here to help.

Learning to live without an addiction is a bit like learning to walk. Each move forward might be wobbly and uncertain, and progress is likely to be slow. But each day brings added strength, and each moment that doesn’t include a fall can allow feelings of confidence to grow.

Just as small babies need safe spaces in which to learn, people in recovery also need warm and comfortable surroundings that can soften their rough edges and help them to grow.

The right sober living home can provide that environment, but unfortunately, there are many facilities that claim to be therapeutic, but that provide only heartache and discomfort. Separating the good from the bad can take time, but once families know what to watch for, they’ll be able to make a good decision.

Occupancy Rates

It’s remarkably easy to open a sober living home. In fact, in an article in the California Real Property Journal, authors recount the case in which a building owner created a home by adding a tent in the backyard and placing a shower, toilet and beds in the garage. These sorts of amendments can make a home a bit more profitable, as they can allow an owner to rent space to even more people, but they can also make the home less helpful.

Sober living homes are designed to use the power of community to fight addiction.

Residents are expected to talk to one another, sharing their tips and their stories, and if residents are piled on top of one another in such a haphazard fashion, that kind of healing is much more difficult to come by. Good homes won’t have this sort of overcrowding issue. These homes might even allow for tours, so potential residents can see the spaces in which they’ll be asked to live. Shady homes, on the other hand, might try to hide the details of the living situation until after the paperwork has been signed.

Truly Sober

One key aspect of the safety involved in a sober living home involves sobriety.

Those homes that do have a therapeutic benefit aggressively promote a sober environment by:

  • Asking residents to submit to urine screenings
  • Banning the use of any substance that contains alcohol, including cleansers and cologne
  • Forbidding the use of intoxicating over-the-counter drugs, including cold medicine
  • Refusing to admit visitors who are under the influence of any substance

To further protect residents, these homes might have a zero-tolerance policy for infractions. Those who break the rules might be asked to leave the facility, and they might be forced to leave the grounds just as soon as the rule-breaking comes to light. Expulsions along these grounds aren’t rare. For example, in a study in the Journal of Mental Health Administration, researchers found that 42 of 132 men interviewed had been evicted from their sober homes. It might sound harsh to put a person out due to a relapse, but these rules are designed to help protect the sobriety of the other residents of the home. 

Sober homes that aren’t truly sober might be difficult to spot, as few would quickly disclose the fact that they’re not keeping the promises they’ve made to their clients, but looking over the rules and talking to administrators can deliver valuable clues. Those homes that have no rules regarding sobriety don’t have consequences listed might best be avoided by people who want to get serious about healing.

Use of 12-Step Philosophies

Counseling groupMany people who participate in addiction treatment programs are asked to attend 12-Step support group meetings, including meetings in the Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous model. But really recovering from addiction means more than just sitting in a room for an hour a week and listening to people talk about addiction.

Experts suggest that real healing takes place only when people take the philosophies to heart and try to put them into use in their day-to-day life.

For example, those who follow the 12-Step movement are encouraged to believe that they have no power over an addiction, and that they simply cannot touch an addictive substance again. In a study in the journal Substance Use and Misuse, researchers found that those who believe in this statement tend to remain abstinent, while those who don’t tend to dabble and subsequently relapse.

Accepting a new way of thinking is difficult, and sober living homes may help. In facilities that follow a 12-Step model, people are required to go to meetings, and they might even have modified support group meetings to attend in the home. Additionally, they’ll be living with people who are also active in the 12-Step movement, and they might have the opportunity to discuss the steps and lifestyle changes they should be making. They’ll often find it easier to really work the program, and they may stay sober as a result.

There are some homes that don’t follow a 12-Step program, and it’s worth mentioning that at least some of these programs can help people to recover from addiction. But, programs that have a strict 12-Step philosophy tend to have an uncompromising view of addiction, and they tend to enforce rules that lead to real change. Focusing on these facilities might be a quick way for people to find a good program that’s right for them.

High Retention Rates

Since sober living homes rely on a sense of community for healing, it’s vital for at least a few members to have some experience with long-term sobriety. These senior members can act as mentors for those new to recovery, assisting them with words of encouragement when they feel their willpower beginning to slip and slide. These senior members can also model behaviors that work and demonstrate that recovery really is possible.

Professional programs will provide such good help and such a healing environment that people will want to stay and work. Poor programs, on the other hand, tend to be so rife with problems that people just want to leave. When they do, according to an article in the journal European Addiction Research, they tend to do so within the first month. This means poor homes might be filled with people who are all struggling with the first stages of recovery, and it might mean that healing here could be difficult.

Determining retention rates isn’t easy, but good questions to ask include:

  • What’s the longest period of time a client has stayed here?
  • What’s the shortest?
  • Are senior members given more responsibilities? Those with no senior members won’t be able to answer this question at all.
  • How does the program encourage people to stay enrolled?
  • If people leave, why do they do so?


Aesthetic Choices

A sober home is part of an addiction treatment program, but it’s also a place that an addicted person must live in for a specified period of time. The person’s valuable items might be stored in the home, and the person will be expected to eat and sleep there on a daily basis. It’s important for people to feel comfortable in the spaces in which they live, and it’s vital for people to feel as though they’re not compromising their safety or style by agreeing to live in the home.

Women in sober livingGood sober homes don’t have to be similar to high-end luxury hotels, but they should be clean and well-maintained. The person who moves into the facility should feel as though the spaces are at least attended to regularly, if not combed over on a daily basis.

Those who are used to the finer things in life might appreciate a sober living home that does provide a few luxury amenities, however, and that should be part of the checklist a family uses during the selection process.

Most cities provide detailed crime statistics upon request. While any sober living home might be party to complaints from nosy neighbors or disgruntled residents, poor homes might have calls on a weekly or even a daily basis. These facilities aren’t providing their clients with appropriate treatment for addiction, so not surprisingly, the crime rates tend to rise. It’s an issue a police report can quickly clarify.

Sober homes should also be located in spaces that are amenable with the person’s life outside of treatment.

Those who have jobs might need facilities that are close to their workplaces, for example. Homes that are located across town might be lovely, but they may be poor choices as the daily commute might cause intense stress. Homes in isolated spaces might also be less than desirable, as they may make attending support group meetings or therapy sessions difficult.