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Examining the Rules of a Sober Living Home

olive-branch-groupAfter treatment at an inpatient rehabilitation facility, people may become concerned that they will be unable to continue their sobriety once they return to their daily routines outside of the rehabilitation center. This is understandable, because many life stresses can trigger cravings, which can lead to relapse. Individuals who have this fear should consider transitioning into a sober living home.

Sober living housing offers a transitional environment for people who have gone through comprehensive treatment at an inpatient rehabilitation facility, to help these individuals learn to maintain their sobriety in a supportive environment. Because there are numerous people who live in sober living housing, these facilities have strict rules to ensure that the greatest number of people possible learn better coping mechanisms, develop social support systems, and get into good habits to help them maintain their sobriety in the face of great stress.

The Rules at Sober Living Homes

While each sober living home has slightly different rules or structure, there are some basic rules at each one. These rules ensure the continued sobriety of residents and a useful social support structure. Rules include:

  • Each resident must abstain from alcohol and drug use, both on and off the premises. Regular drug screenings may be part of the program. In addition, staff members may check residents’ rooms or belongings for alcohol or drugs, and immediately discharge anyone who brings alcohol or drugs onto the premises.
  • Residents give emotional support to, and receive emotional support from, one another, in order to grow their social support networks.
  • Residents’ participation in recovery is voluntary. This means that, although it is not recommended, residents are free to exit the sober living program at any time if they choose. They are also offered a flexible group therapy schedule, although some facilities have requirements for a certain number of sessions, depending on how long the individual has lived at the sober living facility.

Other basic rules, which are typically regulated by the state as well as the sober living home’s staff or resident council, include:

  • The resident will be evicted if violence occurs, whether a resident threatens or attacks another, or if two or more residents attack each other.
  • The resident will be evicted for failing to follow the sober living home’s rules for safe conduct.
  • Residents must find a sponsor.
  • Residents must attend at least four self-help, or peer support, meetings per week.
  • No unapproved guests on the grounds.
  • No borrowing money from other residents or staff members.
  • Residents must sign in and out, and adhere to curfew as required.

Each state regulates sober living homes differently, so some have more specific laws that residents must follow and more specific requirements of the facilities. For example, Massachusetts requires that sober living homes offer mental health, legal, vocational, and medical services to help residents achieve independence when they leave the facility and remain sober in the face of challenges. While sober living homes outside of Massachusetts may not offer that full suite of assistance, residents should feel confident in asking for help finding outside assistance with these matters.

States also closely regulate the cleanliness and safety of sober living homes, so anyone considering this as an option after inpatient rehabilitation should feel confident in the quality these facilities must maintain.

Required Drug Testing at Sober Living Homes

While not all states require drug testing at sober living homes, the homes themselves tend to require this safety measure, at least for part of the individual’s stay. Drug testing ensures that individuals have not relapsed, and if they do, that they receive help as soon as possible after relapse. It also ensures that no one has access to addictive substances on the sober living home’s grounds.

State law will require that people who choose a sober living facility after inpatient rehabilitation will be informed of the facility’s rules on drug and alcohol screening, among other requirements.

Required Peer Support Meetings

Group-Therapy-94001696Requirements for sponsorship and group therapy also vary by facility and based on state regulation, but typically, sober living homes require residents to attend some therapy sessions.

One study that looked at Clean and Sober Transitional Living (CSTL) in Sacramento, California, showed that the sober living homes associated with this group split recovery into two phases: Phase I and Phase II. The phase system is a traditional model for sober living homes, although these phases can vary slightly. At CSTL facilities, Phase I is very restrictive: Residents pay for a room that they share, dormitory-style, with other residents; their meals were cooked for them, and everyone ate in a communal cafeteria; they must sign in and out when they leave; they have a nightly curfew; and most importantly, they carry a meeting card with them, which is stamped when they attend at least five meetings per week. If any person in Phase I fails to comply with these rules, especially the meetings requirement, they will not move on to Phase II, and they risk getting kicked out of the sober living home.

Phase II has fewer restriction in CSTL homes, and includes the ability to have outside guests a few times per week. Residents in sober living Phase II are not required to carry a card proving they attended meetings, although they are still required to attend five meetings per week.
Medical research has repeatedly shown that sober living homes are highly effective at helping individuals after inpatient rehabilitation to maintain their sobriety. For many individuals whose substance abuse or addiction problems were triggered by life stress, isolation, or mental health problems, sober living homes allow for greater social support during the early part of life in recovery. As a result, individuals can find firmer footing in recovery before living on their own.