In the United States, 60.1% of individuals ages 12 and older use at least one substance (like tobacco, alcohol, or an illicit drug), according to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

In the same report, among the 139.7 million alcohol users in the U.S., 65.8 million were binge drinkers.

Substance abuse significantly impacts users, their families, their community, and society as a whole.

Recovery and sober living homes can empower individuals to get the help they need, and the aftercare required to complete rehabilitation. Having a solid support system and a safe living environment allows residents to grow, and to get the accountability they need to sustain sobriety.

In our comprehensive guide, we share the truth about sober living homes, including what it is like living in a sober house and how it factors into the long-term recovery process.

What is a Sober Living Home?

Sober living houses are alcohol and drug-free environments where residents can establish or maintain their sobriety. Through peer support, proven recovery principles, peer empowerment, and individual responsibility, residents can solidify their sobriety and prepare to return home or live independently.

In general, sober living homes are privately owned homes for people recovering from drug or alcohol addiction. Houses are usually located in quiet, peaceful neighborhoods, where members can destress and focus on their growth and recovery journeys.

In a recovery housing model, residents offer and receive support from their peers and leaders in their community. Research has discovered that communal living can help decrease substance abuse and incarceration rates, and increase employment rates. It can also help individuals hone their coping skills, learn how to communicate effectively, and trust themselves.

Sober Living Houses vs. Rehab Centers and Halfway Houses

It's easy to confuse sober living houses with rehab centers or halfway houses, but there are some stark differences among them. Rehab centers offer intensive recovery programs that help residents overcome addictions by following strict rules and regulations. Halfway houses usually require that residents complete a formal rehab treatment program and they limit the amount of time residents can stay to 12 months.

A sober living community is less strict. It offers residents more freedom to come and go as they please. It often acts as a bridge between rehabilitation and preparing members to live independently drug- and alcohol-free. While residents aren't required to have completed a rehab program before entry, many of them have. The tools that individuals learn in intensive rehab programs may set them up for more sustainable success in a sober living house.

In the communal home, residents must pay their own way and may be required to take on more responsibility than they would in a rehab center. For example, members must often pay for rent and hold a steady job or attend school. They must also contribute to the community by helping with chores, taking responsibility for their actions, and respecting and obeying all house rules.

A Brief History of Sober Housing

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) originated in the 1930s and provided the steppingstones for sober housing by requiring strict sobriety, participation in the community, peer support, and a 12-step program. However, AA did little to address housing needs for its participants as they worked through the program.

In the late 1940s, some AA members decided to fill this pressing need by acquiring low-cost housing that required strict sobriety and encouraged residents to attend AA meetings. These became the first sober houses in California, some of which are still operating today.

In the '40s and '50s, California began to dismantle its custodial care systems (e.g., local jails and state psychiatric hospitals), creating an even greater need for sober living houses. However, the existing 12-step recovery houses usually refused to accept inebriates. Instead, they required applicants to begin their sobriety before approaching the sober house. Recovery programs filled the gap by initiating abstinence and including detoxification.

Today, sober houses are "free-standing", independently owned and operated. They're not licensed by an official body, nor do they provide licensed professional services onsite.

What are the Rules and Regulations of Sober Living Homes?

The primary rule of sober living is just what one would guess: staying sober. If someone drinks or uses drugs while living in a sober home, they violate the most important rule of the house and may be asked to leave. However, admitting to relapse and being open and honest could earn a resident a second chance. They may be suspended and then allowed to return, if they're genuinely willing to remain sober and clean.

Here's a list of basic sober living rules that many homes enforce.

Residents must:

  • Abstain from drug and alcohol use
  • Abide by a set curfew
  • Respect their housemates and the home staff
  • Give and receive emotional support
  • Participate in activities (like support meetings and chores)Not have pets (depending on the home)Not have overnight guests
  • Sleep at the house at least five nights per week
  • Cover certain expenses to live in the home
  • Agree to participate in random drug and alcohol tests
  • Regularly attend local 12-Step meetings or peer-support groups

Cell phone policies vary from home to home, as do pet policies. Some homes allow cell phones and pets if they aren't disruptive. Others may limit or restrict cell phone and internet access because they can act as triggers that could lead to relapse.

Who Should Consider Joining a Sober Living House?

Anyone who wants to stop drinking alcohol or using drugs should consider joining a sober living community. Many residents complete a rehabilitation program prior to approaching a sober living home, but this is not mandatory. If you have already gone through rehab, but you're not quite ready to live independently, this type of facility may be an excellent fit for you.

While completing a substance abuse rehab program before moving in may not be required, it can help individuals to stay sober. They've already learned some coping skills. However, if residents are willing to remain sober, follow all house rules, and guarantee medical stability, they should feel free to apply.

Those living in a sober living house are serious about their recovery. They want to be held accountable and to support their housemates. The goal is to transition to an independent lifestyle, free of substance abuse and addiction.

If you or a loved one meets any of the following criteria, you may benefit from joining a sober living home:

  • You suffer from mental health or medical issues and substance abuse or addiction.
  • You don't have a strong support system at home.
  • You've been through rehab already.
  • You have been resistant to treatment in the past.

How Long Should Residents Stay in a Sober Living Home?

Residents may remain in a sober living home for as long as they want, if they continue following the house rules. The length of time depends on an individual's unique journey and how long their treatment and recovery take. One study reports that an average stay lasts between 166 and 254 days.

Do Sober Houses Work?

Sober living houses can foster peer encouragement, camaraderie, character development, and accountability in residents. The outcomes of living in such an environment can include positive health, behavioral, and relationship changes.

Ethos evaluated their house members who lived a year or longer in their community. The outcomes were very positive. They discovered that living in a sober house is associated with sustainably reduced mental health symptoms like depression and anxiety. It is also linked with improved relationships and enhanced functioning and wellbeing.

Most members surveyed also reported that they have greatly improved in the following categories:

  • Family relations
  • Life satisfaction
  • Emotional health
  • Education
  • Employment
Another series of studies found that individuals who remained abstinent for less than one year relapsed two-thirds of the time. Those who remained sober for a year or more relapsed less than half the time. And those who abstained for five years remained sober and avoided relapse 85% of the time.

Individuals should not leave sober living until they're ready. If they leave too early, their chances of relapsing increase significantly.

How Much Does Sober Living Cost?

To join a sober living house, residents must pay their own rent, which could range anywhere from $500 to $5,000 per month, depending on the location and whether certain houses include meals and other services. Residents may not have to pay for utilities at all, making housing very affordable.

Most likely, insurance will not cover this type of housing, because it is not considered a mental health treatment center. Since sober living homes are often financially independent, they usually do not accept insurance. Residents' insurance may, however, help cover addiction treatments, like therapy.

How do I Choose the Right Sober Living Home?

To have the best chance for effectively recovering from addiction or substance abuse and remaining sober long-term, individuals should look for drug-free, stable housing that will support their recovery. Living in a destructive environment can quickly lead to relapse.

Those searching for the right sober living home should look for facilities with reputable staff, and a safe and productive living environment and culture.

Here are several red flags to watch for in your search. These are signs that a facility could be dangerous and poorly run:

  • No house rules
  • No safety or privacy provisions
  • Unsafe or rundown building
  • Claims to be free or offers to pay you for attending
  • Doesn't submit to regulatory inspections
  • Has untrained or uncertified staff
  • Doesn't require regular drug testing
  • Doesn't require abstinence
  • Lacks admissions requirements
  • No record-keeping

Another tip to keep in mind when selecting a home is the location. The facility should be in a safe, peaceful neighborhood. It would also be helpful if the house were near your work or school, a grocery store, public transit, a laundromat, and a healthcare provider.

Try to choose a quality sober living home located outside of your hometown as well. Being farther away from the environment that initially drove an addiction can help individuals avoid relapse. Someone's family and friends could become a barrier to recovery, or may even trigger relapse. Conversely, having a change of scenery and being safely away from temptation can facilitate faster healing

Ethos: An All-Men’s Sober Living Home in Los Angeles

Ethos is a sober house for men in West Los Angeles. Our mission is to foster long-term sobriety by creating a supportive environment where house members participate in each other's recovery. We encourage everyone to reinforce positive lifestyle changes through adventure, support, and peer feedback.

We host nightly "family" dinners, weekly meetings, and regular outings to create an environment that promotes cohesive unity. The brotherhood between house members empowers everyone to walk through tribulations with much-needed support, and to meet our high standards. Everyone here knows what it means to be their brother's keeper.

If you'd like to learn more about our sober living residence, please contact us today.

Further Reading

  • Long-Term Recovery
  • 12-Step Programs
  • Exercise
  • Therapy
  • Nutrition
  • Medication
  • Employment
  • Interventions
  • Substance Abuse
  • Internet Addiction
  • Sober Living Guide
  • Outcomes Data