Recovery is a lifelong journey. While getting sober may require a simple detox or rehab program, living sober requires constant commitment and care. For many, returning home after treatment jeopardizes that ability to truly live sober. If a person’s home life is filled with stresses or pressures (such as old haunts or taxing relationships) it can significantly increase their risk of relapse.
Fortunately, there are options for people looking to live sober and maintain recovery. Sober living homes are a transitional housing arrangement for people in recovery who desire an independent, yet structured and sober home life. Sober living means living in a place where there are no temptations or distractions from alcohol or drugs. It also means living in a place where you can rebuild and reinforce the sober life skills learned in your treatment program.
We’ve talked about the benefits of sobriety, but what about the benefits of sober living homes specifically? As in, the benefits of really and truly living sober day-to-day, away from substances and a substance-using society. Let’s take a look.
In a sober living home, you will be surrounded by people who support your recovery, and who will hold you accountable on a daily basis. Typically, sober living homes have on-site managers that live in the house with you and the other tenants. These managers are available 24/7 to help you with any potential issues that arise in your recovery – difficult cravings, down emotions, trouble finding a job – and are simply there to talk. In many cases, sober living homes connected to a treatment facility will be equipped with support staff and alumni who have walked in similar shoes. These people know what it is like to experience substance addiction, complete a rehab program, and live sober after treatment. They can offer you advice when you need it most.
House managers will also hold you accountable. In a sober living home, there is a set of rules in an effort to keep all residents happy, healthy, and sober. These rules may include no alcohol or drug use on-site, a set curfew each night, or regular drug tests to ensure a sober living environment. If someone continuously breaks the rules (although we recognize relapse is normal), they may not be allowed to stay any longer. This helps keep the environment (and expectations) as consistent as possible.
- Meaningful, Sober Relationships
One of the most obvious benefits of sober living – whether in a sober housing or treatment setting – is the bonds you will form while there. You will meet and live alongside people who are also in recovery and share common ground. These people also understand what it is like to use drugs, to crave drugs, to feel distant or depressed, to lose control, and to disappoint others. Most of all, they have the desire and drive to change, and become the best possible people they can be, without drugs or alcohol.
Living in a sober house or residential treatment can also help reduce loneliness, which is an inherent part of the addiction cycle. When you were using drugs, you likely felt very alone. You may have cut ties with the good people in your life or withdrew from family members in fear of judgment and rejection. In a sober recovery setting, however, this can all change. You will not be alone – there will be people literally living beside you, with very parallel experiences. Over time, these people will start to feel more like your family, or your community, with everyone supporting and understanding one another. These are the relationships you will have for life, the people you can call on when things get tough, the people that will hold you accountable for your sobriety time and time again. They become your sober network.
- Restored Life Skills
When a person becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, a lot of other obligations are tossed out the window. This might include eating healthy, exercising regularly, keeping a clean home, and maintaining good personal hygiene. One of the benefits of sober living is the structure it puts back into each resident’s life. In the treatment or a transitional home, you will re-learn how to establish a regime and maintain a healthy lifestyle. You will re-build important life skills – from something as simple as doing laundry to more difficult obligations like finding employment – and re-establish personal responsibility. Living with other residents in recovery, you will also learn and apply interpersonal skills (effectively dealing with any challenges), financial skills (paying bills and rent), and other practical skills needed to properly take care of yourself independently, without the use of drugs.
One of the greatest benefits of sober living is the newfound (or re-found) independence that it brings. With your sobriety underway and a positive outlook on the recovery process, you will begin to take life back into your own hands. You will have the independence to go out and find a job on your own and take the steps needed to be successful in any job you pursue. You will have the independence to make new friends and establish meaningful friendships that support your recovery. You will also have the freedom to shop for your own meals, cook your own meals, and fill life with the things that bring you joy. In summary, you will have the freedom of choice, and the ability to make responsible and healthy choices that will ultimately better your life. All the while, you will be in a safe and sober environment.
At Turnbridge – an inpatient program in Connecticut – residents works through different phases of addiction treatment. When they are deemed ready to take on more independence in their recovery journey, they move into a sober living environment and into a more independent way of life – traveling into the city for classes, work, and social activities; practicing self-care and healthy regimes on a daily basis; and attending 12-step meetings on their own. All the while, they still have access to clinical care and support through their treatment program.
- Easier Transition Back to Mainstream Life
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of sober living homes is that they ease the transition back into everyday life. Recovery is an ongoing commitment; it does not end after rehab. That is why sober living environments are so important. They bridge the gap between treatment and mainstream society, helping a person to ease back into the buzz of the “real world” – work, school, nightlife, relationships, and more. They provide a safe and sober place to come home to each night and give residents a chance to adjust to independent living without the formal, round-the-clock care they had in a treatment setting. Sober living homes allow residents to get a sense of what real sober life is, beyond the walls of rehab.
Sober living homes are generally designed for people in early recovery, or in outpatient treatment, though many are open to people at all stages of the recovery process. Usually, the residents in these housing facilities are either going to treatment or attending meetings on a regular basis. This is an added benefit in that it will help you keep up with these obligations and stay in a sober state of mind.
- Mitigating the Risk of Relapse
As explained in our definition of sober living homes, the goal of sober housing is to give people in recovery a safe and supportive place to heal, away from outside pressures. This separation is perhaps the greatest benefit of all. You will be given a place to live and to focus on yourself, without temptation from old drug-using friends, old hang-out spots, and other environmental relapse triggers.
You see, substance abuse and addiction make lasting changes in the brain – they alter how our brain cells work, and therefore our ability to make rational decisions or exhibit self-control. Studies show that those who relapse while in recovery have less brain tissue in the portion of the brain that regulates behavior and emotional control – and this makes sense. As you likely know, it is hard to ignore temptation or cravings, especially in the early stages of recovery.
Sober homes can help eliminate relapse triggers that may cause cravings or temptation. There is no alcohol, no drugs, and no addictive prescriptions or OTC drugs allowed in a recovery home. There is no opportunity to relapse, because everyone is held accountable for their actions, and no time to relapse because everyone has their own, busy regime to keep on a productive recovery journey.