Q&A with Chip Peterson, M.Ed., NCC, CADC
In residential treatment for drug or alcohol addiction, your recovery begins in a controlled environment. You’re surrounded by support, and by a wealth of resources to learn about yourself and your substance use disorder. But how will your brand-new recovery fare back in the real world?
Bridging the gap between those two very different environments are sober living programs. After a 30- to 45-day stay in residential treatment, spending two months or more in sober living can double your changes of still being sober after a year.
At Oxford Treatment Center, separate sober living homes for men and women are monitored 24 hours a day by clinical assistants. Scheduled activities are balanced with greater independence, and residents take part in local 12-step meetings at least once a day.
Clinical Therapist Chip Peterson, M.Ed., NCC, CADC, has worked with patients in sober living and facilitated groups in the Intensive Family Therapy Program (IFTP). He now leads the Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) at Oxford Treatment Center’s Olive Branch Outpatient Office.
What is the purpose of the sober living phase of treatment for drug or alcohol addiction?
“Sober living and outpatient therapy are an opportunity for patients to practice what they’ve learned in the residential setting. It’s also an opportunity to give their brains and bodies some more time to heal before being thrust back into the stressors of normal life.
“We know that one of the largest factors that leads to relapse is stress. So, engaging in the intensive outpatient and the sober living programs gives patients continued structure in a safe environment that is free of many of the stressors that can lead to a return to substance use. It’s basically an opportunity to get thoroughly entrenched in a program of recovery before they return to the real world.
“And time is our friend in all of this. The rewiring of the brain, including formation of new neural pathways, takes time. So putting oneself in the right kind of environment in early sobriety is key to more successful outcomes.”
How does a sober living program factor into success rates?
“The number one predictor for success in treatment is length of stay, and that’s something we talk about with our patients and their families. The statistics tell us that when a person goes from a 30 to a 90-day stay in treatment, they double their chances of being sober at one year. Across the country, the recommended standard of treatment is now 90 days — that’s a minimum.
“During our Intensive Family Therapy Program (IFTP), staff and volunteers often verbalize their successes and setbacks in the recovery process, which often enables us to bond with the family members. This modeling of making oneself vulnerable in a group of people, and the resulting sense of connectivity that takes place, illustrates a key component to recovery for patients and family members alike.”
Why would people invest in 30-day treatment, then resist continuing in sober living?
“What we often see is that patients are continuing to have an internal struggle. This is part of the contemplation stage of change. They are weighing the pros and cons of staying sober versus going back and using. Hopefully, as patients progress through IOP/sober living, that internal struggle starts to subside and they have an increase in acceptance of the fact they have a potentially fatal malady. Then, they usually start to wholeheartedly engage in the activities that will assist them in combating the disorder.”
What kind of routine do people have while in sober living?
“There is still structure to the program, but it’s a step down from the very ordered environment they have during residential treatment. It’s a step closer to living independently.
“Patients have intensive outpatient therapy three times a week, while participating in individual therapy once a week and as needed. In addition, medical and psychiatric care are provided by Oxford Treatment Center staff. They also engage in some experiential components, like yoga, art, music or equine therapy. Regular drug screenings are also a part of the program that assists with accountability. There are also life-skills classes, including job interview, resume skills, and fiscal responsibility. And, when appropriate, patients have the opportunity to engage in volunteer work in the community and our Intensive Family Therapy Program.
“The patients also maintain the cleanliness of their facility and take care of their own meals. That’s a step toward independence compared to what they experienced in residential treatment, where they had housekeeping service and all their meals provided. Often, the house members get together as a group and cook community meals or grill out. The fellowship that goes along with that is another positive aspect. Patients realize that they can participate in activities without the use of mood-altering chemicals.
“Our patients can seek employment after they’ve been in sober living for a minimum of 30 days. Then, we work on transitioning them to the next phase, depending on their needs. Options may include extended sober living treatment.”
How do you gauge when someone who’s been through addiction treatment is ready to go home?
“When people are at a point where they have full acceptance of their disease, and that internal struggle subsides or at least decreases to some degree — that’s one of the big things I look for. Another significant indication is when staff, family members, support network members, and patient all agree that the patient is ready.
“Beyond that, we look at the sober network that will provide support and accountability for the person going forward. Someone’s sober network could include family members, spouse, or co-workers. We also help them get connected with the 12-step recovery community in their place of residence. This includes meeting with people who have common goals and have overcome a lot of the same challenges.”
How early does Oxford Treatment Center start preparing for a patient’s next steps after treatment?
“We start discharge planning the day the patient is transferred to IOP/sober living. With input from family members, significant others, and any other trusted members of their support network, we work with patients to assist them in making quality decisions that can have lasting positive impact on their recovery.
“While many factors, including finances, support system, other mental health diagnoses, and progress in treatment, play significant roles, our intent is to tailor an individualized discharge plan to meet as many of our patients’ needs as possible. An environment void of major stressors tends to work best in early recovery.”
Chip Peterson, M.Ed., NCC, CADC
A veteran of the U.S. Navy, Chip has served as a clinical therapist for Oxford Treatment Center’s outpatient and sober living programs. He has also served as a group facilitator for Oxford Treatment Center’s Intensive Family Therapy Program. His prior experience includes working at the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence of Northeast Mississippi (NCADD) in Tupelo.
Chip holds a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from Mississippi University for Women and a Master of Education degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Delta State University. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor and is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor through the Mississippi Association of Addiction Professionals (MAAP). He is also a member of the American Counseling Association (ACA).