Sober Living Homes & Oxford Houses

Sober living homes are safe, cost-effective, substance-free living environments for individuals in recovery. Sober houses require residents to have already completed treatment and to abstain from alcohol and drug use. They usually offer a variety of services and amenities.
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After treatment, many individuals return to high-risk environments. Your friends or family members may tempt you with alcohol or other drugs by consuming them in front of you. Stress from work can build up. Seclusion can become appealing.

Erik, in recovery from addiction, discusses his support system and how staying in a sober living environment helped him.

Sober living is a lifestyle characterized by healthy behaviors. It doesn’t include isolation. It includes building relationships, supporting others and practicing healthy ways to overcome triggers.

Establishing a sober lifestyle is difficult during the early stages of recovery. You need somewhere safe you can go after treatment, a place where you’ll be free of triggers and surrounded by social support.

What Are Sober Living Homes?

Sober living homes are structured, safe and substance-free living environments for individuals in recovery. They are also commonly known as sober houses, recovery homes, halfway houses or recovery residences.

The best facilities employ compassionate staff and enforce strict rules that support the recovery process. All of a sober house’s residents are expected to pursue better health and a substance-free life.

Laura Clarke of Advanced Recovery Systems talks about the importance of sober living environments during recovery from addiction.

Numerous studies have shown that most people who live in sober homes after attending treatment have low rates of relapse and are able to live productive lives. Sober living homes are realistic, cost-effective living environmentsr for people in recovery.

Types of Sober Living Homes

The services, rent, rules and living conditions at sober living homes vary from place to place. Some homes are part of a behavioral health care system where residents live next to a rehab clinic, participate in outpatient therapy and have access to the clinic’s recreational activities. Other homes are run completely by residents with no oversight.

Oxford House

Oxford House facilities are the best examples of Level I sober living homes. They’re the most common type of sober living home in the United States. The houses are run by residents and emphasize peer support as an essential component of recovery.

There is no in-house treatment or requirement to attend a specific recovery program, but 12-step participation is popular in Oxford Houses. A new house member must be interviewed by current residents and must receive an 80 percent vote of approval to be accepted. Residents elect officers every six months, do chores and pay rent. All of the rent goes to maintaining the house.

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Halfway Houses

Halfway houses are technically sober living environments, but there are many differences between halfway houses for people transitioning out of incarceration and sober homes for people in recovery from addiction.

Sober living homes are maintained through fees, and residents can usually stay as long as they want. Unlike many halfway houses, sober homes are not monitored by state agencies.

The goal of sober living homes is to monitor and improve health, safety and wellness using peer support. The goal of many halfway houses is to reduce recidivism among felons using supervision. However, some halfway houses are designed to reduce drug relapse rates for high-risk individuals leaving incarceration.

How Sober Living Houses Work

The ways that sober living houses work vary depending on the level of support provided. The National Alliance for Recovery Residences is one of the largest associations of sober living homes in the United States. It developed four levels of support that can be used to characterize most sober living homes.

Sober Living Home Levels of Support

Level I (Peer-Run)

Democratically run, House manual
Drug screening, House meetings, Self-help groups encouraged
No paid staff

Level II (Monitored)

House manager, Written policy and procedures
Drug screening, House meetings, Self-help groups or treatment mandatory
Single-family or apartment-style
At least one paid staff member

Level III (Supervised)

Hierarchy, Administrative oversight
Drug screening, House meetings, Self-help groups or treatment mandatory, Life skills emphasized
Multiple types
Facility manager, Certified staff or case manager

Level IV (Service Provider)

Overseen hierarchy, Clinical supervision
Drug screening, House meetings, Self-help groups or treatment mandatory, In-house services and programming
Multiple types, Possibly institutional environment
Facility manager, Credentialed staff
Source: National Alliance for Recovery Residences

Today, most sober homes are unregulated, but some homes are part of larger organizations such as Oxford House, the Florida Association of Recovery Residences or the New Jersey Alliance of Recovery Residences.

Who Can Stay at a Sober Living Home?

In general, individuals with a history of vagrancy, incarceration or inadequate social support are at high risk of relapse. But sober living homes can be beneficial for anyone in recovery who does not have a supportive, substance-free environment to go home to.

Sober living homes usually house only same-sex residents and require residents to complete either a detox program or an inpatient rehab program before moving in. Additionally, residents must agree to a number of rules when they move in.

Sober Living Home & Oxford House Rules

Rules vary depending on each home or accrediting organization, but most sober living homes have several rules in common.

Typical sober living home rules include:

  • No use of alcohol or other drugs.
  • Compliance with random urine tests.
  • Compliance with established curfews.
  • Participation in house meetings.
  • Completion of household chores.
  • Participation in outpatient treatment or community support groups.
  • No intimate relationships with other residents.
  • No drug paraphernalia or items promoting drug use.
  • No violence, threats or offensive language.
  • Pay rent on time.

Residents usually sign a contract or written agreement outlining all of the rules and regulations of living at the sober living home. Sober living homes are known for strictly enforcing rules, and violations usually result in eviction.

What Happens if You Relapse in a Sober Living Home?

Although relapse is a common part of the recovery process, it threatens the recovery of all residents. Thus, individuals who relapse are usually removed from the sober living home as soon as possible. Many sober living homes refer the resident to a drug addiction rehab center or offer another form of treatment.

In NARR homes, the goal is to protect the health of all residents, not to punish the resident experiencing relapse. In Oxford Houses, individuals who relapse cannot return until they complete a 28-day rehab program or complete treatment and demonstrate an ability to continually attend support group meetings.

Services and Amenities

Most residents at sober living homes have a private or semiprivate room. The homes usually include a kitchen, common areas and laundry accommodations.

Some sober living homes have exercise equipment, fitness areas, recreational space, pools and cookout areas. The homes may also be near an outpatient treatment center or on the campus of residential rehab facility.

Homes near outpatient treatment centers may provide access to several services, including:

  • 12-step meetings
  • Group therapy
  • Family counseling
  • Educational programming
  • Vocational training
  • Life skills training
  • Relapse prevention counseling

In other homes, counselors or case managers visit on a regular basis to provide in-home services. Former residents and treatment alumni may visit regularly to provide additional guidance and support.

Typical Day at a Sober Living Home

An average day at a sober living home usually includes group breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Most homes have household meetings nightly, and residents often attend treatment, support group meetings or other wellness activities together.

Residents are usually expected to get up between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. In most houses, residents eat breakfast together at a set time.
Residents are usually required to find a job, attend classes or receive some other kind of vocational training.
If the house provides transportation, residents will meet at a set time to attend school, work or outpatient treatment.
After school, work or treatment, residents do chores, laundry and other housework.
A house meeting to discuss personal disputes, household tasks and other daily activities may occur before or after dinner.
At night, residents usually attend support group meetings together.
Free time may occur after dinner until a set curfew. Residents often watch TV, read, exercise or journal during freetime.

The daily schedule at sober living homes is heavily influenced by the residents’ current stage of recovery. Some homes are highly structured, with strict schedules and consistent eating and meeting times. Other homes have more free time, and residents are more independent.

How Much Do Sober Living Homes Cost?

In general, sober living homes cost as much as an average apartment. Depending on the city, neighborhood and services offered, rent can range from $300 to $2,000 per month. Some sober homes do not require residents to pay utility bills, but utilities may be rationed to avoid waste.

Some sober living homes are covered by private insurance, government funding or Medicaid.

Recovery residences are less expensive than living at a rehabilitation facility or detox center because fewer services are offered. But many sober homes require residents to attend support group meetings or participate in 12-step programs or outpatient treatment, which may be an additional cost for residents to consider.

There are a variety of ways to pay rent at sober living homes. Most residents find a job to pay out of pocket or set up a payment plan with the home. Some sober living homes are covered by private insurance, government funding or Medicaid. The amount of insurance coverage depends on the plan. Some residents also pay for sober housing through scholarships, loans or credit cards.

How Long Can I Stay at a Sober Living Home?

Several factors determine length of stay, such as the severity of the addiction, a person’s history of substance abuse, their recovery progress, ability to follow rules and ability to pay rent.

Residents may first move into homes with high levels of support and then transition to homes with lower levels of support. A 2006 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that most Oxford House residents stayed more than a year, but some residents stayed more than three years.

And a study published in the American Journal of Community Psychology found that 62 percent of residents either remained at the house or left on good terms two years after moving in.

How Effective Are Sober Living Homes?

Studies indicate that living in sober homes after inpatient treatment increases recovery rates, financial strength and overall stability.

An American Journal of Public Health study compared individuals who lived in a sober living home to those who only received outpatient treatment or attended self-help groups.

After two years, those who resided in a sober living home:

  • Were less likely to abuse alcohol or other drugs.
  • Made a higher average income.
  • Were less likely to be incarcerated.

A study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment found sober living home residents experienced improvements in arrest rates, alcohol and drug use rates, and employment rates. The authors found evidence that 12-step program attendance and social support systems were key components of recovery for residents.

A variety of other studies have also found that sober living homes appear to be an effective component of the recovery process.

Choosing a Sober Living Home

Sober living homes don’t require accreditation, a state license or oversight from a behavioral health care provider. The lack of regulation has led to the creation of homes that lack access to support services or strict rules.

In response, policymakers have attempted to create laws allowing states to regulate sober living homes.

However, fair housing and equal opportunity laws designed to prevent discrimination have made complete regulation difficult.

When choosing a sober living home, prospective residents or family members should look for the following qualities:

  • A reputable certification from CARF, NARR or a state agency.
  • Membership in a reputable association of organizations, such as NARR, the Association of Halfway House Alcoholism Programs or Oxford House.
  • Encourages attendance at evidence-based support meetings, such as 12-step programs.
  • Strict rules for alcohol and drug use, rent payment and curfew.
  • Access to services and levels of care pertinent to your stage of recovery.

Additionally, you should get to know the people you’ll be living with. Try to determine their optimism, willingness to offer support and motivation for remaining sober. In Oxford Houses, residents interview potential residents. That can be a good time to get to know future roommates and decide whether that particular house is best for you.

Sober living homes are an effective resource for individuals who have completed treatment and are ready to begin their lives in recovery. They provide a balance of supervision and independence that allows people to transition back to work, school and daily life.

Medical Disclaimer: aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

Senior Content Writer,
Chris Elkins worked as a journalist for three years and was published by multiple newspapers and online publications. Since 2015, he’s written about health-related topics, interviewed addiction experts and authored stories of recovery. Chris has a master’s degree in strategic communication and a graduate certificate in health communication.

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