The National Alliance of Recovery Residences, a nonprofit organization that oversees and sets regulations for sober living facilities (which are also often referred to as halfway houses or three-quarter houses) uses the term recovery residence as a broad umbrella term for all these different types of facilities. These facilities are group homes that are specifically designed to cater to individuals who are in the early stages of recovery from a substance use disorder.
Most individuals who stay in these facilities have recently completed a formal withdrawal management or addiction treatment program and are in the process of transitioning from acute recovery to a more stable living environment. A recovery residence offers these individuals structure and stability while they adjust to the changes in their life and continue to engage in treatment to avoid relapse. Recovery residences are often owned by businesses in the community or charitable organizations that wish to provide a service for this particular group.
There are number of things to understand about the makeup of these recovery residences.
- Recovery residences act as a safe place for individuals attempting to reenter relatively normal living conditions after treatment for a substance use disorder.
- Sober living homes are not free. Residents in these facilities are required to pay rent, buy their own food, etc. Some recovery residences cater to more well-to-do clientele; these homes are quite exclusive and expensive.
- Most sober living homes are set up for men. There is a need to have more recovery residences that cater to women.
- Recovery residences are governed by a strict set of regulations, and there are often strict penalties for violating these regulations. There is a zero-tolerance policy for violating some of these regulations, and violators may be evicted.
General Rules and Regulations
The exact policies and rules will vary from residence to residence. However, there are a number of regulations and expectations that are common to most of the recovery residences in operation. A general review of common rules for sober living homes indicates that most have the following regulations:
- Residents are subject to random drug and alcohol testing at the discretion of the supervisors. The cardinal rule in a recovery residence is strict sobriety. Violation of this rule can result in a loss of privileges or in being evicted if the rule is violated several times. There is a zero-tolerance policy for substance use.
- Most residences have strict rules regarding the possession of medications, drugs, or substances with alcohol in them. Many residences do not allow individuals to have mouthwash containing alcohol over-the-counter medications. Often, medications are dispensed by staff members to residents who take them. The use of medications and drugs, even prescribed medications, is strictly monitored.
- Curfews are established. Nearly all sober living homes have curfews for their residents. Newer residents are likely to have stricter curfews, and residents who have stayed in the facility for a significant length of time and demonstrated their ability to remain trustworthy and sober may have a more relaxed curfew schedule. If a resident needs to be out of the facility after curfew for treatment or some other important reason must clear this with the management.
- Because several different individuals stay in these residences at the same time, there is often the need to develop a schedule to use the bathroom for showers, cleaning up, etc. These residences often cater to 4-8 individuals, and bathroom privileges need to be strictly scheduled.
- House meetings are generally mandatory for the residents. These meetings offer residents the chance to discuss issues with management and for everyone to review issues regarding the functioning of the facility.
- Treatment attendance is generally mandatory for residents. Some facilities have in-home peer support meetings, such as 12-Step group meetings. In some cases, attendance at these meetings is required. For residents who engage in treatment obligations outside the facility, attendance proof may be required.
- Residents who have co-occurring diagnoses may be required to attend treatment for their co-occurring mental health disorder.
- Many sober living homes require that the inhabitants have a formal treatment plan in place.
- Residents are expected to keep their living quarters clean. Communal areas in the facility are also expected to be cleaned by residents, and management will typically assign chores on a rotating basis.
- Residents are expected to pay rent on time.
- In some facilities, residents are expected to buy their own food, prepare their own meals, and clean up after themselves. In other facilities, there may be a community meal program, and the shopping and food preparation are often assigned to residents on a rotating basis in the same way that certain chores are assigned.
- Aggression or hostility aimed at other residents or staff is strictly prohibited. Most sober living homes have a zero-tolerance policy regarding this rule.
- There is a zero-tolerance policy in most facilities regarding the theft of possessions from another resident or from the facility itself.
- Visitors are often allowed in the communal areas of the sober living home. Visitors are not allowed in the residents’ bedrooms in most recovery residences. There are typically posted visiting hours for each specific home. Many of the facilities require that visitors sign in and out when they come and go, and they have the right to deny certain individuals the right to visit the facility.
- No sexual contact with other residents or visitors (even for married couples) is allowed in the facility at most recovery residences.
- Smoking is typically allowed only in designated areas. Most often, these areas are outside the facility.
- Facilities that cater to special populations may have specific rules that are applicable to that population. For example, a sober living home for parolees would have an additional regulation regarding meetings with parole officers.
- There may be specific individualized policies or regulations for certain individuals. These are typically discussed with the prospective resident and documented before the person is accepted into the residence.
Recovery residences are required to maintain the dignity of their residents and also to ensure that residents understand their rights and obligations. Rules and regulations need to be made available before the resident is accepted to the facility. A staff member generally reviews the specific rules and regulations with prospective residents, and each resident must agree to follow them. This typically requires a written agreement and contract specifying the expectations of both the facility and the resident. In addition, residents who have grievances or other issues regarding the rules and regulations should adhere to formal written procedures to voice these issues. The facility is required to have a formal documented grievance policy for residents to follow.
Some facilities provide incentives for individuals who do not violate the rules. Some of these incentives may include:
- Group or personal outings that can include trips to amusement parks, museums, etc.
- Less strict curfews.
- Release from doing certain types of chores.
- Fewer restrictions on visiting hours or a loosening of other restrictions
Rules Add to the Effectiveness of Sober Living Homes
A number of research studies have been published that have investigated the effectiveness of sober living homes. For example, two often cited studies published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs in 2008 and 2010 suggest that highly structured recovery residences and the inclusion of 12-Step programs, by either providing them in-house or making attendance mandatory for residents, are associated with better outcomes compared to facilities that do not have a strict structure (written rules and regulations) or do not require treatment attendance. Thus, it is clear from the research that adherence to a strict set of regulations helps to provide structure in the recovering individual’s life and contributes significantly to the effectiveness of these facilities.