Is Sober Living Right for You After Treatment?
The trickiest part of addiction sometimes has nothing to do with kicking the habit itself, and more to do with reframing your lifestyle to prevent unhealthy habits from crawling back into your world. This process can be almost as painful as detoxing.
Though sober living homes (SLHs), sometimes known as sober living environments (SLEs), are woefully understudied. Conventional wisdom dictates that removing oneself from a toxic environment and relocating to a supportive one is bound to have a positive effect. Indeed, the studies that exist support this assertion, finding that substance use and arrests go down over a 12 month period, and employment increases.
Still, many of those receiving inpatient treatment don’t fully understand the concept of sober living. So, what exactly is a sober living home, and who is a good candidate for these sorts of environments?
Breaking Down Sober Living
Simply put, sober living houses are living spaces designated for those in recovery. These houses are structured environments where residents might be subject to curfews and substance screening. Those living in sober living homes may also be required to participate in group meetings, some of which abide by 12 step programs.
Sober living houses can be used as a progressive step following inpatient treatment, or in combination with outpatient treatment. Different facilities have different specifications for eligibility as well as different requirements to remain in the house.
Overarchingly, SLHs are considered an effective way to allow substance abusers to “dip their toes” back into the hustle of daily life. Residents are free to come and go, and they are sometimes required to seek gainful employment as part of the program.
Many addicts and substance abusers partaking in inpatient treatment are inclined to believe that they don’t need this sort of structure in order to stay sober following their treatment, but SLHs are a positive move for many people trying to stay sober due to a variety of factors.
Candidates for Sober Living
Clinicians have only truly started to understand the fact that addiction is a broad response to discord in mental health within the last 10 years. That is to say, addiction is often a symptom, rather than the root of the illness.
Because of this fact, inpatient treatment is often effective because it forces a user to step away from their substance of choice as well as the fact it removes them from the toxic environment that is contributing to their addiction. Once the inpatient treatment has ended, those unhealthy relationships and cycles likely still exist in a recovering user’s home life. This is where SLHs step in.
Those in recovery often feel that their resolve is too strong to be shaken—that they won’t fall into old habits simply because their social circle is still full of users or due to the daily stresses of strained familial relationships. As wonderful as this optimism is, it’s generally unrealistic.
A 2016 study found that “negative emotion” plays a strong contributing role in relapses. Additionally, peer pressure and a lack of assertiveness had a hand in relapse rates too. With something as broad as negative emotion serving as the largest factor in relapses, it’s unreasonable to expect every user to stay sober once they return to their old lives when there were likely stressors in that life that led them to substance abuse in the first place.
What’s more, living alone can prove just as problematic for those in recovery. It stands to reason that someone who has received inpatient treatment and recognizes that their previous lifestyle isn’t conducive to recovery might take steps to remove themselves from that lifestyle following treatment. The problem is, this step often means cutting ties with a large portion of their friends, acquaintances, and even family members, which inevitably leads to feelings of isolation.
Emotional frustration and the need to escape have also been cited as common factors in addiction. What could be more emotionally frustrating, more oppressive than feeling completely alone?
In turn, sober living houses knock out some of the larger risk factors for relapse in one fell swoop. Not only are residents removed from their previous lifestyles until their path to total abstinence is more firmly rooted, but they’re also not subjected to isolation which can easily lead to mental anguish.
Support Systems in Sober Living
Perhaps the most important factor in the efficacy of sober living houses is the structure they offer. Coming out of inpatient treatment, many addicts only know how to handle sobriety in a highly regulated environment, so it’s hard to tell what they’ll do when left to their own devices.
SLHs offer a stepping stone for recovering addicts. Residents are free to work, go to school, and get on with their lives, but they’re still held accountable for their actions while receiving a lot of peer support. Sober living houses that are part of a larger network have been found to increase residents’ chances for long-term abstinence. This speaks to a fundamental fact of human nature: it’s easier to go with the flow than to buck the trend. That is to say that because residents are surrounded by other addicts in recovery, it’s easier to stay on that same path.
The sense of community that SLHs provide is their most obvious strength. Just as an addict is more likely to relapse due to peer pressure, they’re more likely to stay sober for the same reason in SLHs. Plus, peer support groups are a promising method of maintaining sobriety in general. Residents are able to share their experiences openly without fear of judgment; that catharsis is critical on the road to total recovery.
Addiction is a deeply personal affliction. Everyone finds their way to substance abuse for a different reason, so they must necessarily forge their own path out as well. While there’s no one size fits all solution to long term recovery, it’s clear that sober living can be an invaluable tool for those deeply committed to their sobriety following inpatient treatment.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, allow Ethos Recovery to help. We have a wide range of treatment programs to help people on the road to recovery. We work with clients each step of the way, and part of the discharge process is seeing if a person can benefit from sober living. For more information, please contact us today for a free evaluation.
Author – Chris Howard
Chris Howard is the Founder and Director of Ethos Recovery. He has a B.A. in Psychology from UCLA and has served as a community advocate/mentor for men and women in recovery since 2010.