Leaving the psychological security, the intense sense of real care, and the high level of support you experience in a residential drug and alcohol rehab program, and finally returning to what you would consider your “normal life” to be (assuming you ever had one prior to the downward spiral of your substance addiction), can be truly terrifying for some newly sober recovering addicts.
For others, it’s even worse, and long before they ever reach the front door of their old haunt, they’ll have stopped by the downtown street corner or the backstreet bar, and simply ended up getting themselves well and truly loaded.
Sadly, relapses like these happen far too often. The leap a recovering addict has to make – between their secure residential rehab, and an outside world they’ve never felt truly safe in – can prove too far for many, and a rapid return to old, destructive behaviors is all but sealed.
However, there is another way, another option, that provides a level of additional security, and significantly lessens the jump you need to make – sober living.
“Home is what you take with you, not what you leave behind.”
– N.K. Jemisin, U.S. fiction writer, and author of “The Fifth Season“
Let’s face it – you’re in a phase of transition, and you owe it to yourself to make the journey you’ve already made really mean something and be worthwhile. During this transitional phase, your #1 priority is simple – stay clean, stay sober, and stay healthy by staying abstinent.
Sober living is specifically designed to help you do just that.
What is Sober Living?
In this short article, we’ll look at the essential characteristics you should look for in a sober living home (often abbreviated to SLH). Before that, let’s first look at the purpose of a sober living facility, how it works, and how successful environments like these really are. Be aware that sober living spaces can be referred to in a number of ways, eg. sober housing, addiction rehabilitation houses, and sobriety homes.
A SLH allows you to reside amongst other newly sober recovering drug addicts and alcoholics (exactly as you did in the residential program you’ve just left), and experience a similar level of community, fraternity, and peer support. Additionally, many SLHs require that you become fully active in a 12-Step program, eg. AA or NA, as attending mutual help meetings aids abstinence.
However, here, you’ll have far more freedom and autonomy – as long as you meet the strict criteria for staying in a SLH, and the primary condition is staying sober.
Do this, and you can stay. Get loaded, and you’re gone.
So, do they actually work? In a word, yes – as long as you’re committed and motivated to stay sober, and to start your life afresh, 100% substance-free. Research has shown that sober living is associated with:
- Increased employment
- Decreased alcohol and drug use
- Fewer arrests, and
- Mental health improvements
SLHs can also improve your social interactions with people, especially among your recovering peers. They can offer unique learning opportunities for:
- Feeling understood
- Recognizing the vulnerability in others
- Identifying with the recovery process of others, and
- Allow you to engage in mutual accountability
If you’re interested in the option of residing in a SLH, you’ll need to do your due diligence. As with any type of service, there are the good, and, sadly, the not-so-good. You need to remember that when attempting to find a safe, reputable place that fully meets your needs.
To help you with this important process, here are your “4 Essential Characteristics of a Sober Living Home” – if you can find a SLH that meets the following criteria satisfactorily, you’ll be halfway there.
#1. Location and Setting
Look upon a move to a SLH as just that – a move of home. Just like if you were looking to change apartments or buy a place, you’ll want to check out the local area first, and see what’s out there, and what’s on offer. Try and find somewhere that’s both peaceful, and one where your personal safety is nothing to worry about.
Remember why you’re moving – your #1 priority of staying clean and sober. So, areas that are free from possible temptations or relapse triggers, but still leave you near your support network – close family, friends, regular 12-Step meetings, and so on.
#2. Length of Stay
Ideally, you will want to look for a SLH that allows residents to stay as long as they want or need, and many are happy for you to do this as long as you comply 100% with their rules, eg. remaining clean and sober, doing designated chores, and so on. Some SLHs require a commitment of a 6-month stay, as their purpose is to ensure you remain substance-free, and are able to remain abstinent after you leave.
#3. Cost & Affordability
There’s a popular misconception that somehow sober living spaces are either free or just low-cost. Let’s put you straight – in a word, no. Remember, not only are you paying for a place to live, SLHs are “managed environments,” eg. you will probably be regularly drug-tested to ensure your sobriety, so you will need to be certain you can cover all fees that relate to living there.
Here are a few questions you should be asking:
- Is a security deposit required, and, if so, how much is it?
- What forms of payment are accepted by the SLH?
- Are utilities and other services included, or is there an additional fee for these?
If cost is an issue for you, there are options available; for example,
- Scholarships: Many SLHs offer cheaper scholarships
- Free Initially: Some SLHs are free for the first few weeks to allow you to secure an income before having to pay, and
- Financing: Some have even partnered with financing companies to offer additional options
Many residential rehabs will have information about SLHs in their area, and will assist you in securing a place, too. Please, always make sure you can afford to move into a SLH – you really don’t need added stress so early in your recovery.
#4. Balance Between Autonomy & Recovery
If there is one thing that you will need to find yourself in a SLH is this: a healthy balance between autonomy, your new sense of freedom as your life becomes less restricted, and your addiction recovery, particularly the structure and routine you need to concentrate on remaining healthy, both physically and mentally.
Your residence in a SLH will help you learn to trust yourself again, which can be troublesome for recovering addicts, and to behave in ways that are both constructive and conducive to your sobriety. The right balance between freedom and structure is essential in ensuring you don’t step too far too quickly.
Remember – due diligence. To summarize the essential characteristics you need to look for:
- Location & Setting
- Length of Stay
- Cost & Affordability
- Balance Between Autonomy & Recovery
Do your research, check out reviews, talk to people, look around, take tours of possible places, and find somewhere that feels “right” to you. Safe journey onwards.
Gerard Bullen has been writing addiction recovery-centered articles, white papers, guides, blogs, study reports, and opinion-editorials for the substance addiction industry in the U.S. for the last 5 years, and he is an active and working member of a number of organizations, including the American Medical Writers Association.