In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald writes, “It’s a great advantage not to drink among hard-drinking people.” Those who are sober when others aren’t are able to see the lunacy intoxication can bring, and they might be even less likely to engage in drinking or drugs in the future. However, some people simply can’t understand how they could stay sober when others are intoxicated.
The proximity to intoxicating substances, and the knowledge of the power of these substances, can keep people experimenting, dabbling and failing in sobriety. Sober living facilities can help to preserve sobriety, as this kind of peer pressure doesn’t take place within the walls of an institution dedicated to sobriety. But the benefits of a sober living program go beyond concerns about drug and alcohol proximity. In fact, people who participate in programs like this may achieve benefits that are profound, powerful and difficult to attain in any other way.
Sober living facilities allow formerly addicted people to come together and live as a group. All of these people have addictions in common, but they may be at different stages in the recovery process. Some are new to recovery, for example, with only a vague idea of how they’ll stay sober and make better decisions in the future. Others have more months of sobriety behind them, and they have developed strong skills that allow them to resist temptation and avoid common addiction pitfalls. Living with people like this could allow those who are new to sobriety to learn some very important lessons.
It’s a form of active learning, in which people take the time to really watch someone else, experiment with the behaviors observed and learn to apply them in their own lives. Where rehab might provide people with passive forms of learning in which they listen to a mentor and then think about using those skills, peer learning allows those new to recovery to watch someone else and then use that observation in an active way.
The benefits of these lessons can also apply to those who are being observed. People functioning as mentors may feel a sense of responsibility about those they work with and those they are trying to help. They want to make good decisions and help their peers, and relapsing to bad behavior could be counterproductive. Those in later stages of recovery might be less likely to relapse, in other words, if they think newer residents rely on their good example.
While learning from peers is an important part of the healing process in a sober living community, people who live here also need to continue to work on their addictions. Some people have daily therapy sessions to attend, weekly support group meetings to participate in and medications to take. The demands of a program like this can be overwhelming, and it’s not surprising that some people feel tempted to slip outside of the bonds of care. They may feel like sleeping in, instead of going to a therapy session. They may want to visit with friends, instead of attending a support group meeting. They may feel as though they could cut back on their medications, just to see what might happen.
This kind of experimentation could lead to disaster, as people with addictions often need to keep working on their healing in order to really transform their lives. In a sober living community, these shortcuts are a little harder to take. Facilities may have strict rules regarding program participation, meaning that people must go to their therapy sessions and support group meetings or face some kind of punishment from the leadership team. Peers in the sober living facility might also help to keep people on track, as they may point out the importance of continued therapy.
While sober living facilities can’t be considered a form of therapy for addiction, as few facilities provide formalized counseling or medication management, people who live in facilities like this may feel as though they’re still directly involved in the rehab process. Their sobriety is still the main focus of the day’s activities, and staying sober may be considered the most important task the person could accomplish in a standard day.
Staying enrolled in treatment has been associated with sobriety in multiple studies. For example, in a study in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, only 49.4 percent of those who participated in detox programs got some form of therapy for addiction. Those who did tended to stay sober, while those who did not returned to substance use and abuse. Staying in a sober living community could be considered beneficial as it increases the length of time in which people directly participate in the culture of sobriety and healing. The longer they do so, the more likely they may be to stay sober in the years to come.
Participating in therapy is vital to success, as is paying attention to the habits of those who have achieved long-term sobriety, but really changing a life from one dominated by intoxication to one dominated by sobriety means changing almost everything about the way life is lived. That could be hard for some people to do if they live at home, as their communities may have hidden landmines that could trigger their addictions.
In a study of the issue, in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers subjected people with addictions to cocaine to a variety of cues, including videos of people taking cocaine and preparing cocaine. When the former addicts saw these images, they had strong cravings for cocaine, and their hearts raced and their skin cooled. Other studies have shown similar responses in people who walk by the rooms in which they once used drugs. Their bodies become conditioned to respond, and it can be difficult to use the mind to overcome these cues. Sober living communities allow people to walk away from their neighborhoods and their homes, so they can avoid some of these cues. Relapse might be a little less likely to take place, as a result.
Additionally, some people with addictions live in troubled communities in which drug use is common. Dealers operate out in the open in communities like this, and drugs are just remarkably easy to come by. Again, this could increase the chances of exposure to negative cues associated with drug use, but people might also just find it easy to buy drugs in neighborhoods like this. A study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior suggests that poorer neighborhoods are closely related to substance use and misuse, as peers seem intoxicated, life is stressful and drugs are common. It can be hard to recover from an addiction in an environment like this.
Some sober living communities correct for this by setting up shop in upper-class residential neighborhoods. Drugs could still infiltrate here, of course, but the substances might be slightly more difficult to obtain, and recovery might be a little more likely as a result. Facilities also encourage clients to get jobs and work with community counselors on housing programs and public assistance programs. When the sober living work is through, people might be more likely to afford good homes in good neighborhoods as a result.
Some people with addictions have beautiful support systems at home made up of:
When they feel upset, low or sad, they can lean on the members of their community for support and really feel good about the help they’re getting and the love they’re feeling. Some people with addictions, however, struggle to find sober connections in their lives, and they may feel as though they don’t really have anyone to lean on when times are tough. For people like this, the friends made in a sober living community can be vital.
The shared living structure of a sober living community is designed to encourage people to work together, listen to one another and support one another. The community may have regular meetings in which residents discuss their concerns openly and ask for advice. They may share meals, chores and recreational activities. In short, they may function a bit like a family. These can be connections that persist, even when the time in the facility is through, and they could be helpful as people continue to work on their long-term recovery. They may keep in touch with friends through alumni meetings or community-sponsored gatherings, or they may just choose to stay in touch informally. When times are hard, people like this have someone to lean on, and that could be vital. Participating in a healthy, family-style relationship can also allow people in recovery to learn how to mend ties with their biological families. They may know how to communicate, share and receive love, after practicing with a sober family in a sober home, and they may be able to enter the circle of their biological family a little easier as a result.
If you’d like to learn more about how a sober living community could fit into your recovery plans, or you need help finding the facility that’s right for you and your family, please call us. We have trained professionals standing by to take your call.