Sober Living Homes: Relapse Prevention or Promotion?


Relapse prevention is at the core of addiction treatment programs, because unfortunately, the odds are likely that a patient will undergo a relapse at some point:

  • 90% of alcoholics experience at least one relapse in the following 4 years after successful treatment. Tobacco, heroine, and other drugs show similar relapse rates.
  • Looking at the relapse statistics can be extremely discouraging, but the good news is, they aren’t as bleak as they seem. Experiencing a relapse CAN be a part of the recovery process.

Causes of Relapse

There are several ways to relapse, the biggest ones being controlled by social factors:

  • Stress is one of the top causes of relapse. It’s impossible to entirely avoid stress, but the dangerous types of stress are extreme stress, or chronic stress. Both can be managed with mindfulness and relaxation training.
  • The social environment is another major factor in relapse. It’s no surprise that hanging around people (be it friends, family members or co-workers) who take the substance (even if they aren’t abusing it), can lead to relapse.
  • By having a supportive social environment, one can drastically reduce their chances of relapse. Unfortunately, most people don’t have this kind of support. For this reason, sober living homes exist as a supportive environment for these people. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of this later.
  • Seeing reminders of the drug or substance can also raise your chance of relapse, especially for those who’ve just finished treatment.
  • ‘Social coping’ is also an interesting factor to consider. An example of this is: some people drink alcohol to prevent themselves from feeling nervous at parties. After completing treatment, the next time they’re at a party, they will begin to rely on alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Supportive Social Environment: Sober Living Homes

Sober living homes are homes providing social support for addicts. They are similar to college dormitories, except they have their own set of rules. They differ from rehab facilities in that they allow more freedom to the person (you’ll often hear people calling them ‘half-way houses’ or ‘recovery homes’). Recovery homes are also more affordable than rehab centers.

The rules of recovery homes differ from place to place, but the most common ones are:

  • Residents must stay sober. Sometimes they aren’t even allowed to use products or eat foods which contain certain ingredients. This is to prevent false positives showing on their drug test.
  • Curfews: the residents must be home before a certain time.
  • Residents attend activities such as breakfast together.
  • Most residents either study or have jobs, so they usually leave after breakfast. Some homes provide a van for these people.
  • House meetings are usually organized by the manager to discuss issues or resolve disputes between house members or staff.
  • Residents are required to attend 12-step meetings, which may occur as frequently as every night.
  • Most houses reward good behavior and punish bad (being expelled is the worst case scenario).
  • A lot of recovery homes are gender specific. This is important, because, in early recovery, sobriety must be the main focus for these individuals, over any other aspect of life. Romantic relationships are distractions during this process.

There have been several studies showing the significance of social factors on addiction. One such study found that a social network consisting of abstainers or recovering alcoholics resulted in significantly better outcomes after a 3 year period.

Another study revealed that sober living homes resulted in long-term improvements towards drug and alcohol usage in addition to other factors such as arrests, employment, and psychiatric symptoms. They also noted that higher involvement in 12-step meetings and lower alcohol/drug usage in the network predicted better outcomes.

So overall, the research does support sober living homes as a good option for those seeking social support after rehab. However, it’s not as straightforward as the statistics illustrate.

The Risks of Sober Living Homes

While the research is in support of recovery homes, living in them can sometimes cause greater harm than good. Here are ways in which this could happen (and ways to avoid it):

  • You find a recovery home to live in, hoping to obtain a social circle that will help with your recovery process. The opposite thing happens: you meet someone who’s taking part in your addiction, and they end up aiding your return to addiction. This is more common than people think. Make sure to do as much research as possible on the recovery house before deciding to live in one.
  • Corrupt home owners: Some homeowners actually sell drugs to addicts, aiding their relapse. This is a serious issue although they aren’t as common as the above. Once again, this can be avoided by doing proper research and avoiding any dodgy places. Do online searches about the place, check the state mental health board for any complaints, talk to the directors, managers, and counselors and do whatever you can until you’re 100% satisfied.
  • Some people are actually forced to be in the recovery home due to court orders, while other people have chosen to be there. For this reason, some people may not be as serious about quitting as you are and hanging around these people can encourage a relapse.
  • Furthermore, drug tests can easily be evaded with synthetic urine.

So overall, sober living homes aren’t a panacea, but well-run establishments can do the world of good under the right circumstances. Poorly run or monitored homes, however, can aid in the occurrence of a relapse.

A positive social circle goes a long way toward avoiding a relapse. So if you don’t have access to that kind of environment on your own, a sober living home could be critical to your rehab success.

While dodgy behavior can occur in these homes, by doing extensive research and choosing a reputable sober living home, one can experience amazing results. It’s not rare to find someone who’s been clean and living there for over 6 months.

These homes not only provide a positive environment, but they also teach a bunch of social and job-related skills and encourage responsibility in young people. In the end, it’s up to the individual as to how well their recovery goes.

For those living in the area, you can try out Sober Living Florida, a strict, but well managed and nationally recognized facility. The place is strict with a lot of rules such as phone call restrictions, but that’s the kind of environment an addict needs to recover.