What are sober living environments?

Quick Answer
Sober living environments are group housing communities that are intended solely for recovering and recovered addicts. These are not permanent residences or treatment centers; instead, they are interim homes for sober residents who may have no stable place to live after completing an inpatient or outpatient treatment or rehabilitation program. Sober housing includes any living arrangement that temporarily provides structure and safety to a recovering addict without medical care; halfway houses and other transitional residences are specific examples of sober living arrangements in which residents benefit from the structure of a contained society as a bridge between fully supervised treatment programs and complete independence as a functioning member of society.
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The sober living environment, because of its variety of development sources (for example, nonprofit, private ownership, and peer group initiatives), is a relatively new and little-studied development in standard addiction care. These environments are available across the United States. Some are faith-based and nonprofit, whereas others are privately funded; some are based in single-family group homes, and others are in apartment-style dwellings.

Sober living environments are homes that have little counselor supervision, unlike residential treatment centers, which are staffed with multiple social workers and counselors as community residents. Sober housing encourages sustained abstinence by providing a recovered addict a place to learn and practice independent coping skills away from drugs or behaviors related to addiction and abuse.

These homes promote sobriety in multiple ways. For example, they allow for a recovered addict to avoid frequenting old temptations and habits (such as particular places, hobbies, and people) by acting as a safe and stable environment. Also, they introduce recovered addicts to other people with similar concerns and histories to encourage socialization that supports continued recovery and promotes shared knowledge of relapse and recovery. The basic structure involves residency of 90 to 365 days, with rents charged to support the facility. Programs within the residence may be additionally supported by donations, nonprofit foundations, or grant awards.

Halfway houses and other sober living environments are particularly useful for people whose home or work environments before receiving addiction treatment were unstable or were not drug-free. Recovery residences introduce experiences that model new, drug-free living for many struggling addicts.

At a minimum, each sober living environment has guidelines that the residents must follow to remain in the home. Most sober living environments assign housekeeping duties and curfews to residents; these responsibilities and expectations boost self-esteem and establish time for group participation. Thus, residents work and live together for the benefit of everyone in the home. Common transitional living rules include bans on overnight guests, prohibition of any substance of abuse, and required involvement in a peer group at the home.

Unlike patients of residential treatment or inpatient programs, the residents of sober housing are expected to hold a functional place in society outside the home, such as a work position, school enrollment, or other form of community involvement. Some halfway houses exist for adolescents only, while others exist for women or men only. Housing options involve wide ranges of supervision, and many employ random drug-testing to ensure abstinence.

Mission and Goals

Sober living environments are common extenders of care in the twenty-first century, often because funding for many treatment programs remains insufficient. Longer durations of structured programming, whether in hospitalized settings, prison settings, or full-time residential treatment centers, help prevent relapse.

Sober living facilities do not provide medical care or the same level of structure as treatment centers. They do, however, embody abstinence-based living without the costs of specialized professional care, with a minimal cost burden. Sober living environments prolong the community and psychosocial support begun during detoxification or rehabilitation, after that stage of care is considered successful and complete.

A sober living environment aims to prevent recovered addicts from falling into old lifestyles that facilitate drug abuse after achieving treatment successes. Through group involvement, residents are guided toward goals of community development, in daily duties such as chores and in sharing of past treatment experiences. Sober housing frequently requires membership in a twelve-step model such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous to foster recovery; thus, sponsors and meetings are incorporated into the sober living home to encourage trust and sobriety.

Often, members of a sober living arrangement have opportunities to participate in additional counseling or life-training sessions at the residence. Freedom to leave the residence helps achieve the goal of independent, abstinent living in the larger society outside the home. The goal of any type of sober living environment is to provide safety, support, and accountability in the early period of this abstinent living.

Sober living environments provide a routine and a schedule that are likely new and beneficial to residents, who learn to manage time and share recovery goals with the other residents. Participants in sober living environments become a network of like-minded individuals, a network that can be extended even beyond the move to independent living circumstances.


Heslin, K. C., et al. “Alternative Families in Recovery: Fictive Kin Relationships among Residents of Sober Living Homes.” Qualitative Health Research 21.4 (2011): 477–88. Print.

Polcin, D. C. “A Model for Sober Housing during Outpatient Treatment.” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 41.2 (2009): 153–61. Print.

Rasmussen, Sandra. Addiction Treatment: Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2000. Print.

Youngs, Bettie B., Jennifer Leigh Youngs, and Tina Moreno. A Teen’s Guide to Living Drug-Free. Deerfield Beach: Health Communications, 2003. Print.

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