What to Expect in Sober Living

Enrolling in a sober living community might be the best step a person can take in order to stay on the path to a robust recovery from addiction. Facilities like this can provide people with a clean, safe and sober place to live as they heal, and the network of people who live within the walls of the community can provide understanding and support that might be hard to come by in the person’s home environment. There’s a big difference between knowing something is beneficial and wanting to actually participate in that activity, however, and people who consider sober living may have a large number of questions about how the facilities run, how they work and what they’re designed to do. While these questions are best answered by the administrators of the facilities, as each sober living community might be slightly different, there are some basic concepts that tend to remain the same among all facilities that provide sober living care. These are just a few of the general concepts that might apply, and the important philosophies people can expect to encounter, when they choose to accept the help a sober living community can provide.

A Strict Schedule

what to expect in sober livingIn a private residence, a person can come and go at will and fill the day with any activity that seems reasonable. Unfortunately, for people with addictions, this lack of structure can lead to drug use and abuse. Vast expanses of time might easily be filled with drugs or alcohol, and the next day might be spent recovering from an ill-advised binge. It’s a pattern most addicted people are quite familiar with, and these longstanding habits might be very difficult to break.

A sober living community can help by providing residents with a new blueprint they can use to fill up their time and manage their responsibilities.

A typical schedule for a sober living home might include set times for:

Residents in these homes have some flexibility in these schedules, of course, and they can take a few liberties with some of the activities listed above. However, skipping activities altogether or blowing off responsibilities due to misplaced urges is rarely allowed. In fact, residents who don’t follow these schedules on a repeated basis might be subject to fines or expulsion. It’s considered an important part of the treatment process, and as a result, it’s not something residents can afford to be cavalier about.

employmentFocus on Employment

During this structured day, residents are expected to head to productive jobs. Holding down a steady job can help people to meet their financial obligations, but employment is also associated with lower levels of relapse, according to a study in the journal Current Drug Abuse Reviews. Time might be a factor here, as people who work tend to have busy schedules that just aren’t conducive to repeated bouts of intoxication and recovery. However, the nature of work might also be a healing factor for people who live in sober living communities.

Jobs provide people with the opportunity to make a contribution. There are tasks to be completed, colleagues who depend on the completion of those tasks and superiors to please. People who have jobs have a place to go each day, and when the day is complete, they have accomplishments to be proud of. For some people in recovery, employment provides a sense of purpose and a reason for sobriety. If they were intoxicated, they’d let down their employers and harm their career goals. While at work, they feel valued and important. By stressing the idea of employment, sober living communities might be providing clients with the opportunity to attain these benefits in their own lives.

Paying the Bills

paying billsPeople who are employed and who have steady paychecks may also find it easier to pay their monthly bills for sober living, and this could also be vital to their success. Payments made promptly are expected in sober living communities, and those who haven’t made financial agreements in advance can’t expect to receive preferential treatment and delayed expectations for payment. They simply must pay their bills on time, and they simply must do so month after month. Those who refuse to pay, or who continually make payments late, show a level of disrespect for the other residents of the house, and their behavior is rarely tolerated. In fact, people who don’t pay their bills might be asked to leave the home altogether.

Those who obtain sober living help through an insurance company may not have the same concerns, as their providers likely handle payments without the help of the resident. Even so, if insurance payments are delayed, the resident may be asked to make calls and determine the funding problem, or else face expulsion.

These rules can sound severe, but again, they can play a therapeutic role. Many people with addictions have poor credit scores, as they’ve consistently placed the needs of their addiction above all other needs. They pay for drugs first, and then use the dregs to pay for food and housing. By focusing on payment, sober living homes are helping to change that habit, allowing people to see that housing and food should always come first in a family budget, no matter what else the family might need at the moment.

communityGiving Back to the Community

People who live in these facilities may be well on their way to recovery, developing new habits regarding scheduling, work and budgeting, but they might also have addictive histories that bring them shame, and their histories can be somewhat intimidating to the people who live close to the sober living home.

People in these residential neighborhoods may want quiet lives focused on home and family, and they may worry that a nearby sober living home will put their dreams at risk.

While a study in the journal Sociology of Health and Illness suggests that outright stigma from neighbors is rare, most facilities also ask their residents to build good networks within the community. They might be asked to keep the exterior of the house spotless, for example, or they might be asked to volunteer their time to help schools or to build parks. These steps can make neighbors more accepting, but they can also reinforce the idea of giving back and stepping up. For some, volunteering could be so rewarding that it becomes part of their everyday sober life.

Maintaining Education

educationWhile much of the focus of a sober living community involves developing new patterns and new ways of living, people who live in these communities may also be dealing with very real cases of lingering addiction, and they may need to continue to work with therapy teams in order to heal. A study in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse suggests that dropout rates from therapy tend to resolve in time, as many people drop out in the early stages, and most who continue to attend do so regularly, but sober living communities may work to ensure that clients work on their therapy, even if they feel as though their addictions are under control.

Some clients go to therapy sessions weekly, continuing to work with their treatment teams on issues of addiction and recovery. Others attend therapy slightly more often, as they may have mental illnesses or other complications standing in the way of a true recovery. Some people even attend therapy daily, as they’re in the early stages of the recovery process. In any case, the program outlined by the treatment team must be followed to the letter for people in sober living homes, and they may even be required to demonstrate their compliance with therapy in order to stay enrolled in the home.

finding communityFinding Community

In addition to emphasizing the importance of therapy, many sober living homes expect their residents to participate in addiction support group meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Participating in meetings like this can be transformative for people in recovery, according to an article in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, as these programs can help people develop a sense of self-efficacy. They may believe they have the tools needed to manage their condition, and as a result, they may be less inclined to make a mistake. Participating in meetings also allows people to develop a sense of community with the other residents of the house.

Some support group meetings are educational in nature, but many allow people to express themselves openly. For example, in some meetings, people are allowed to:

  • Share their stories of addiction
  • Describe recent challenges to sobriety
  • Outline what methods they used in order to deal with the challenges
  • Ask for assistance with a current problem

The group comes together and they share very intimate information. In the past, an addicted person might have kept all these thoughts and feelings bottled up, but in meetings, the sharing can allow people to care for one another, learn from one another and grow together. A sense of isolation can decrease, and the residents can form tight relationships based on healing and growth.

Regular Screenings

Even though people might still be working on their addiction issue while living in a sober community, and even though they might achieve a sobriety level they never thought was possible in the past, the risk of relapse might still be present. Addictions can be remarkably persistent, subject to stress and life changes. People in recovery might always be tempted to fall back into bad habits and make poor choices, and in a communal setting, a slip can lead to disaster. An intoxicated person can make other residents long for oblivion, and someone in the midst of a relapse might bring substances into the home that others might also use in order to relapse.

To prevent this problem from taking place, sober living communities might require residents to submit to regular urine screening tests for drugs, and they might also be asked to submit to regular room searches for contraband. The rules about this can vary, but it’s not uncommon for facilities to expel residents who break sobriety guidelines. It’s just too important to leave to chance.

Increasing Responsibility

responsibilityA study in the journal Qualitative Health Research suggests that moving from an intoxicated life to a sober life is akin to changing careers. People need to learn new skills, build on their existing strengths and find new ways to handle old problems. It’s hard work, and to help that work progress, sober living facilities might encourage residents to take on new responsibilities with each day they spend inside the walls of the home.

In the early stages of the stay, residents might be required to submit to regular searches, break off ties with friends who use and spend each night inside the home. In time, however, the rules may ease and freedom may be easier to achieve. People might be given more free time outside of the facility, for example, or they might be allowed to stay overnight with family members. In some cases, residents are even encouraged to take on leadership roles, mentoring new residents and ensuring that the house rules are followed to the letter. It’s a way of allowing people to accept their new sober status and test the boundaries of their therapy. Some find that they’re comfortable with their new role, and they might even be ready to leave the facility altogether. Others may find that they have a bit more work to do before they can truly feel healed and ready to change to a sober career.

Long Stays for Care

Changing an identity takes time, and in most cases, it’s not something an addicted person can do in just a day or two. Instead, most people need to spend months or even years in the early stages of recovery, slowly building up their skills and feeling comfortable with the new life that’s ahead of them. As a result, most sober living communities are designed to help people for a long period of time. It’s not uncommon for people to stay enrolled for months, and some find that they need to stay in the facility for years. These long stays shouldn’t be considered a sign of failure, as people who take this step haven’t relapsed and they aren’t doing something destructive. Instead, these long stays can be considered just part of the path that some need to take to healing.

If you’d like to know more about sober living, or you need help finding the right kind of treatment facility that can meet your needs, please contact us.

Further Reading About What to Expect in Sober Living