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How Do I Choose the Right Sober Living Home?

Learn What Makes a Good Sober Living HomePhoto of a group therapy session in the living room of a sober living home.

When it’s almost time to leave treatment at a rehabilitation center, you have a difficult decision to make: where do you go? After all, if you’ve just been in treatment for a long period of time, you might not have a job or many financial resources. You also may not be able to return home, possibly because you feel that going back to that environment will increase your risk of falling into old habits and relapsing. So, what do you do?

One option is a sober living home. These homes provide safe, affordable housing to people in recovery, and work to provide a positive, supportive environment. However, not all sober living homes are the same. What kinds of sober living homes are there, and how do you choose one that’s right for you?

What Are Sober Living Homes Like?

All sober living homes have five basic things in common:

  1. A drug- and alcohol-free living environment for people in recovery.
  2. No formal treatments provided, but requirement or strong encouragement of attendance at a 12-step self-help group like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
  3. Mandatory compliance with house rules like maintaining sobriety and participating in house meetings and chores.
  4. Resident responsibility for paying rent and other costs.
  5. Residents welcomed to stay in the house for however long they need, as long as they follow house rules.

However, there are also different approaches that sober living homes can take. Generally, there are two philosophies or structures that a sober living home can follow: the “strong manager” model, or the “social model approach”.

The strong manager model resembles the structure implemented at early “dry hotels” and “lodging houses” by organizations like the YMCA and Salvation Army starting in the 1830s. One person rents out the rooms, collects payments for rent and other bills, evicts residents who relapse, and either requires or encourages 12-step meeting attendance. The weakness of the strong manager model is that it fails to take advantage of the strength of peer support and empowerment.

By contrast, the social model approach, including the Oxford House model, has been increasingly adopted by contemporary sober living homes. These homes usually have a mechanism in place to empower residents and give them input into house operations, such as a residents’ council. In California, coalitions like the Sober Living Network (SLN) and California Association of Addiction Recovery Resources (CAARR) require this type of resident involvement from the sober living homes they certify as members.

Sober living homes are less common throughout the rest of the country though, and if you live here in Illinois you don’t have the benefit of those organizations vetting them for you. However, looking at their process shows that one thing you should definitely seek out when comparing sober living homes is resident involvement—will you have peer support and meaningful input in this home?

So, what are other things to look for in a sober living home?

How Do I Pick a Sober Living Home?

First of all, you should always visit every sober living home that you’re considering before you make any decisions. If you’re still in rehab, see if they’ll give you a pass to go out with a family member or other trusted individual to see these places in person and get a better idea of how they compare.

Then, follow these guidelines for what to look for.

Ask Questions About the Home’s Staff and Structure

Since sober living homes don’t commonly provide any direct medical care, they don’t require licenses from the state to operate. Still, you should make sure that the staff are qualified for and invested in running the facility.

Some so-called sober living homes hardly live up to their names. Owners who aren’t qualified or don’t care about their work may go so far as to allow residents to continue living in the home while actively using drugs, despite the threat this poses to everyone else, simply because if the resident leaves they take their rent money with them.

Make sure that the home you’re considering has a strong and qualified staff that will actually enforce the rules that are in place to support your safety and recovery. Here are some questions you should ask about each facility’s structure and staff:

  • What background and experience do you have in this field?
  • What’s your structure and philosophy for helping residents through recovery?
  • Do you believe in 12-step methodology?
  • What rules do you have and how do you enforce them?
  • Will you evict residents who relapse or break other rules?
  • How do you help residents build a supportive social network?
  • What other organizations and resources do you make refer residents to?

Make Sure the Sober Living Home Is Safe

The other thing to consider is the safety of the sober living home. In this aspect, there are two main things to look at: location and safety measures.

Location is important because you want your sober living home to be in a safe neighborhood. If it’s in a bad area where there’s a lot of drug use, your recovery and safety will be in jeopardy—you don’t want to be living somewhere with dealers walking around and people shooting up nearby.

The other important factor is safety measures. Here are some safety-related questions to ask about each sober living home:

  • Is there 24-hour supervision?
  • Is there a high staff-to-resident ratio?
  • Are the staff trained or equipped to deal with emergencies?
  • Is there drug testing?
  • Do they provide referrals to health professionals?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no” then you may want to consider other options.

New Directions Sober Living Provides a Safe, Supportive Environment

NDARS operates several sober living homes in northern Illinois. If you have any questions about our programs or sober living and recovery in general, give us a call at (779) 220-0336 today. Our experienced staff will always do our best to help you overcome drug addiction and take your life in new directions.

New Directions Addiction Recovery Services

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