Sober homes are safe, supportive places to build skills in preparation for a life without alcohol or other drugs.
Sober homes can be apartments, complexes, or single-family homes. They are rented, operated, and supported by the residents.
A sober home is one option to consider if you’re looking for a supportive after-treatment environment. To stay in a sober living house, you must pay your share of the rent and other costs and abide by the home’s rules and regulations.
After successfully completing an intensive treatment program for a substance use disorder, you may feel that you need ongoing support before you’re ready to live independently. If so, a sober home may be right for you.
Sober homes are drug- and alcohol-free houses that offer a safe, supportive living environment for people in recovery. Sober homes can help you build skills for a life in recovery.
Recovery is possible, and sober homes can help.
Sober homes can provide a stable living environment for people recovering from drug or alcohol dependence. They give their residents the time to build social, financial, and life skills for independent living. Research shows that sober homes are effective in helping people avoid drug and alcohol use, stay out of prison, and become employed.
The National Alliance for Recovery Residences categorizes recovery housing by levels, from the least intensive therapeutic environment (Level I) to the most intensive (Level IV):
Sober homes such as those in the Oxford House model are Level I environments. These sober living environments are peer-run and self-supporting, with few or no staff members. They provide you with a social network and the time, space, and structure to learn or relearn behaviors and skills that assist you in recovery.
Sober homes tend to be rooted in philosophies of self-help, self-governance, and peer support. They are often governed by a founding document, or “charter,” that outlines residency requirements. When you live in an Oxford House or another type of sober home, you’re typically expected to:
Both sober homes and halfway houses provide stable, drug- and alcohol-free housing as a transition from one phase of life to the next. Both types of housing are generally single-gender or are only for women with children.
However, there are several key differences between these sober living environments. Staying in a sober home is typically voluntary, and sober homes often have less structured rules or conditions. Staying in a halfway house is often linked to the federal or state criminal justice system — typically as a court-ordered step that involves close supervision as well as certain rules and restrictions. And while sober living homes are often self-governing and financed by residents, many halfway houses are administered by the government and reliant on public funding.
Sober home and halfway house rules vary depending on the program model, regulations, levels of service, and other factors. Here are a few general differences between sober homes and halfway houses in the criminal justice system:
People in sober living houses …
People in halfway houses in the criminal justice system …
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There are many types of sober living environments, including single-family homes, apartments, and buildings in close proximity. Homes are rented, operated, and supported by the residents. Sober homes often have a communal space for recovery meetings, recreation, and other events.
The number of residents in a sober living facility varies by location, facility size, demand, and other factors. An Oxford House can accommodate six to 15 people, with the average number of residents being eight. In most cases, you will share a room with a peer, which helps build camaraderie and reduces the cost to individual residents.
After you’ve found a sober living facility you’re interested in, you then apply and undergo an interview. If you’re accepted, you may need to pay a certain amount upfront. Your monthly cost to live in a sober home depends on the rental costs, the number of residents, and other factors.
Your stay in a sober home can help you develop responsibility for yourself and others as well as skills in:
Sober living programs may have slightly different ways of operating, but most are modeled on a self-help, peer-support philosophy. As long as you observe the house rules, you can stay until you’re ready to live drug- and alcohol-free on your own.
Your sober home peers with experience in recovery are likely to monitor your progress in two main phases:
Early phase: You follow a more structured set of rules, often under the guidance of a “buddy” or resident peer who has been at the house longer. Your buddy may help you navigate your journey in the early phase. You may be required to devote more time to recovery, limit or avoid contact with visitors, abide by a curfew, or pursue employment. A “blackout” period — forbidding outside communication or visitors (with the possible exception of a sponsor) — is sometimes enforced so you can focus on laying the foundation of your recovery.
Later phase: As you demonstrate the ability to meet requirements of the early phase, you earn privileges on the way to living more independently. Typically, these privileges are earned after one week to one month.
Rules and regulations of sober living facilities vary. Here are some things to consider:
Do I have to be free of alcohol or drugs for a certain number of days before applying for a sober home? This depends. Many require you to have some level of abstinence prior to entry, from a few days to as long as 30 days.
Can I apply for a sober home if I have a mental health condition in addition to my substance use disorder? Studies of sober homes have shown positive mental health outcomes as well as recovery outcomes. However, if you have a co-occurring mental health diagnosis for which you need formal treatment (such as therapy) or case management, you will likely have to arrange for it outside the sober home. Further, having an untreated mental health disorder may impede your ability to thrive in the sober home. Look for the level of care you need to treat your symptoms.
Can I live in a sober home and remain in medication treatment for a substance use disorder? You may be in such a program and feel it’s working for you. However, not all sober living houses accept people taking controlled substance medications, even methadone, buprenorphine, and other approved medications for a substance use disorder. During the sober home interview, ask about policies regarding prescription and over-the-counter medications to see if the living environment is right for you. Find out more about medication treatment for substance use disorder.
Research shows that sober homes can be of particular benefit to those who:
A sober house may not be a good fit if you:
Content reviewed by Jasleen Salwan, M.D., MPH, FASAM, June 2023.