Sober living is probably the only reason I made it through the first six months of my sobriety. The environment in most sober living facilities is not nearly as bad as most people think it is.
I was scared to go, but once I got there, I found something incredible: a large group of men who were just like me, who were working hard to stay sober, and who supported me and kept me accountable when it came to my sobriety.
Sober living is absolutely a good idea. Studies have shown that sober living is effective. A study on two different sober houses showed hugely positive outcomes, even for people who relapsed:
“Abstinence rates improved from 11% at baseline to 68% at 6- and 12-months. At 18 months abstinence was a bit lower, (46%) but still significantly better than the time period before they entered the houses.
“For CSLT, abstinence improved from 20% at baseline, to 40% at 6 months, 45% at 12 months and 42% at 18 months.
“Maximum number of days of use per month at ORS on average declined from 19 days per month at baseline, to 3 days at 6 months, 4 days at 12 months and 7 days at 18 months.
“CSLT declined from 19 days at baseline, to 11 days at 6 months, 9 days at 12 months and 13 days at 18 months.”
Statistics like these are important because, in many cases, addicts will get a few ideas in their heads about sober living:
- Sober living is going to be awful
- I can just go home and be fine
- I’ll move in with my parents/friends/other family members who will clear the house of alcohol and drugs
All of these ideas are basically bullshit.
Sober Living Isn’t As Bad As You Think
First of all, sober living just isn’t as awful as it’s often portrayed. Though it’s true that some sober houses can be bad, it’s my experience that most of the sober houses that go awry are those run by the addicts themselves.
It’s so so so much better to go to a sober house that has some form of management, whether it be a non-profit, a for-profit business, or just someone who owns the house and is willing to implement rules.
Second, going back into the environment you were using or drinking in (going home) is probably the worst idea I’ve ever heard. Unless there is a compelling reason to do so (you’re the only person who can take care of your children, for example), then a short stint in sober living (3-6 months) is probably a good idea.
There’s a reason rehabs recommend you change your people/places/things. This isn’t a cure, but it’s a part of a systematic plan to get you away from bad influences.
I think of sober living as an investment you make in yourself. You go there because you can’t stay sober on your own, right?
Let’s be real—you wouldn’t even be considering a sober home if that wasn’t the case.
Surrounding yourself with people who are working toward the same goal, who understand what you’re going through because they’re going through it themselves, who can call you on your bullshit and hold you accountable—that’s valuable.
These people are going to go with you to meetings. They’re going to live with you and talk about sobriety. They’re going to help you do the things you need to do to beat this disease.
You’re not going to get that at home.
The average age of a meth or heroin addict is 37 years old.
This disease does not fuck around. You shouldn’t fuck around either.
It can’t wait to kill you. If you needed cancer treatment, would you balk at going across the country to kick cancer’s ass?
Of course you wouldn’t.
Third, the idea of moving in with a relative or friend who creates a “sober living environment” by removing alcohol and drugs is not actually creating a sober living environment.
Will they drug test you? Will they kick you out if you relapse and force you to have consequences? Will they force you to go to meetings? Will they hold you accountable if you don’t?
Probably not, mostly because they have their own lives to live.
Sober living does all of that. It’s part of the deal.
You need it.
What the Sober Living Environment Is Like
Sober living is pretty much like living in a big house with a bunch of people.
It’s probably like that because that’s what it is…
There’s almost always a TV (I don’t think I’ve ever seen one without a TV). There’s usually some video game consoles and lots of movies. They generally have cable.
Depending on the sober house, they might provide food or they might not. There will be a kitchen and a fridge just like you’d find in any large house.
There will be bathrooms, some of which will be communal, some of which will be private. Usually there’s a manager on site who piss tests you and makes sure you’re completing certain tasks (getting a job, going to meetings, going to school, stuff like that).
They’re almost always all male or all female—it’s really rare to find one that’s not.
There’s usually a computer that anyone can use. You’ll get a bed with blankets and pillows. Depending on the cost, you’ll either end up in a bunk bed, a twin bed in the same room with someone else, or your own bed in your own room.
Often people will have 12-Step meetings in the house. Usually everyone goes to meetings together. Sometimes everyone goes shopping together, or the manager goes shopping for everyone.
It’s mostly low key, but there can be drama. Generally that’s squashed if you live somewhere that’s managed well.
That kind of stuff can become grinding after a while. That’s why it’s not a great idea to stay too long.
Three to six months is the sweet spot.
More than that and you’re probably relying more on the sober house to keep you sober than anything else.
Less than that and you’re probably going to struggle to stay sober, though I’ve seen people get kicked out of sober houses and end up homeless and still stay sober, then eventually get a new place to live.
It’s not so bad. It’s not as great as living in an apartment or house by yourself or with family, but if you could do that and stay sober, you would have done it already.
Sober living is for people who are serious about getting sober.
For people who need it.
And if you can’t do sober living, maybe you need to consider going back to rehab (or going in the first place).
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