Sober Living: Guide to Addiction Recovery Co-Living Spaces

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For many recovering drug addicts and alcoholics, taking those first tentative steps outside of the substance treatment facility (the one that has rigidly scheduled the daily diary for the past however many weeks or months) literally scares the living bejeezus out of them, leaving the newly clean-and-sober with sweaty palms, a racing heart, and an excessively dry throat – sensations they know only too well, and not a good physical state to be when you’re in the early stages of addiction recovery.

Those days after your addiction treatment has ended are the most critical in your new, sober life. You may wonder – has my mindset been significantly altered enough, do the old habits still flow within my veins, and the cravings? Well, best not to talk about them.

For someone in clearly such a fragile state, going back home to the same neighborhood, the same friends, the same street corners, and the same addicted community – or whatever may constitute “home” for you – is like a regression. It can feel like a failure, and like a return to an addictive past you’re now trying desperately to learn from.

For these people, the idea of living somewhere with its own community of like-minded people who pride themselves on being clean, sober, and abstinent, in a structured place that encourages recovery, encourages 12-Step meetings, and yet isn’t a continuation of regulated treatment, it can sound like the perfect answer.

I once heard a sober alcoholic say that drinking never made him happy, but it made him feel like he was going to be happy in about fifteen minutes. That was exactly it, and I couldn’t understand why the happiness never came. All my efforts were doomed, because already drinking hadn’t made me feel good in years.”

– Heather King, U.S. writer, columnist, and author of “Parched

Addiction research studies into the effectiveness of sober living (commonly called sober living homes, and abbreviated to SLH) has shown that they “are an excellent example of an underutilized modality that could help provide clean and sober living environments to individuals completing residential treatment, engaging in outpatient programs, leaving incarceration, or seeking alternatives to formal treatment.”

What is Sober Living?

Sober living houses (SLHs) are substance-free living environments that proactively assist those in early addiction recovery to remain abstinent from drugs or alcohol (or both), primarily through their strong emphasis on 12-step group involvement and the concept of social support from recovering peers.

SLHs are self-sustaining financially, and residents are normally allowed to remain living in the house for as long as they wish, provided they keep to the strict house rules. Commonly used as housing solutions and referrals after inpatient treatment, they can easily meet the needs of those attending outpatient treatment, after incarceration, or even as an alternative to traditional treatment.

Furthermore, they are a far, far better option for recovering addicts who may otherwise return home to dysfunctional home environments, prompting them to return to previous behaviors and drug-taking habits. In a SLH, a recovering addict or alcoholic has the opportunity to get their life right back on track. A clear contrast can be seen in that a return to a previous home is unlikely to offer any level of support, whereas a SLH has, by definition, an built-in support system.

Having spent a significant (and relatively enjoyable) period of time in an Arizona sober house myself, I can happily testify to the spirit of fraternity and mutual help that existed there, the communal effort to stay clean and sober, and the less rigidly structured environment. Simply put, keep to the house rules, and you learn how to live again.

Here exactly what sober living is – its essential elements include:

  • Alcohol and drug-free living environment for recovering substance users abstaining from substances
  • One condition of eligibility is the attendance, either mandated or strongly encouraged, at 12-step self-help groups, eg. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  • Complete compliance with house rules, eg. maintaining abstinence, paying rent and other fees, doing house chores, and attending house meetings
  • All residents are responsible for paying their own rent and other costs, and
  • An invitation to remain for all residents provided they comply with house rules

However, Sober Living is Definitely Not…

#1. Sober Living is Not Without Strict Rules: Drug Testing

SLHs have one clear proviso: residents will continue to stay substance-free. Therefore, to ensure this compliance, the majority carry out regular drug tests. Let’s be honest, here – if you want to live in a sober living home, it is because of your desire to stay sober.

#2. Sober Living is Not Free: Residents Pay Rent

For some reason, many people have the misconception that they are free. This actually couldn’t be farther from the truth. Residents of sober living environments are responsible for paying their rent on time, and any other costs that apply. Remember, this accommodation is managed, so there are managers and employees, plus a variety of support services for residents.

If this is a concern to you, many sober living homes are now covered by standard health insurance, as the Affordable Care Act classified addiction treatment an “essential benefit.” You may also find that other SLHs offer reasonable payment plans.

#3. Sober Living is Not for the Anti-Social: Sharing is Caring

Active drug addicts and alcoholics tend to be solitary people, preferring to isolate themselves and avoid social interactions. Because of this, newly sober people in recovery often find a social environment challenging. However, it is important to understand that sober living homes are social places, as social interaction encourages recovery support and a sense of community.

Refreshing your rusty communication skills, building up new skills, and learning personal accountability in a community context, are vital for a successful and long-term recovery from substance addiction.

#4. Sober Living is Not the End of Recovery: Addiction Has No Vaccine

As many people come to SLHs directly from inpatient (residential) treatment centers, it’s not uncommon for them to continue their treatment by attending additional outpatient rehab programs, too. SLHs also encourage active participation in 12-Step programs, such as AA, and other addiction treatments. In fact, one particular research study found that those in SLHs have a far better chance of recovery if they do fully engage in the 12-Step process.

Lastly, SLHs want you to remain clean and sober, and they, and the other residents, will fully support you in this process.

Author Bio: As an active member of the American Medical Writers Association, Gerard Bullen has been successfully writing for a range of substance addiction and recovery businesses across the U.S. When he’s not sitting at his iMac and helping others through his articles, Gerard finds pleasure in reading, attempting to train his crazy rescue dogs, or enjoying an evening of “home cinema” with his family.

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