Home Sweet (Temporary) Home: Why Sober Living Works

By: Kathryn Millan, LPC/MHSP

A writer for Heroes in Recovery

Heroes in Recovery has a simple mission: to eliminate the social stigma that keeps individuals with addiction and mental health issues from seeking help, to share stories of recovery for the purpose of encouragement and inspiration, and to create an engaged sober community that empowers people to get involved, give back, and live healthy, active lives.

There are a million different ways to become addicted to a substance, and a million different ways to relapse once you enter sobriety. Sober living homes are one way you can sustain wellness in the early stages of recovery in order to can get back to a more fulfilling life.

A big step in the recovery process involves leaving behind the people, places and things that make you more likely to use again. People who lack a steady, substance-free home environment are more likely to feel temptation to use drugs and alcohol. Sober living homes offer drug-free and alcohol-free housing for people who have the common goal of staying clean and healthy.

You may have heard of sober living’s predecessor, “halfway houses.” The idea of sober living housing had some origins in halfway housing, but sober living is different and more advanced in a number of ways.1

The Rise of Residential Treatment

The idea of residential drug and alcohol treatment became more popular in the 1960s and 1970s, as medical professionals began to understand how important a patient’s living environment (their home) was to their lasting recovery. Halfway houses began popping up as a follow-up to residential treatment, and were soon proven to help residents stay sober longer.1

The goal of halfway houses was to take people out of unhealthy living environments so that they could create new relationships and healthier ways of living. Halfway houses were very successful, but they had some limitations. For instance, these facilities were often funded by the government, which placed limits on how long people could stay. Residents were forced to move out at a prescribed time, even if they were not ready to live on their own again. Government funding also left halfway houses susceptible to budget cuts, and even sudden closure. Because they were often grant funded, residents had to meet particular milestones in a pre-prescribed manner, including participation in a pre-approved recovery program.1 The drawback to this was, of course, that every addiction is different, and each resident may have different needs.

From “Halfway Houses” to Modern Sober Living

Some people found these limitations problematic and wanted to move to a more self-sufficient model. From that need, sober living homes were created. These homes are often guided by passionate members of the recovery community, and the primary rule of participation is usually a willingness to do the work of recovery. Residents often pay some form of rent and work together to keep the house going. Participation in 12-Step meetings is usually highly encouraged, if not required, and residents often make decisions by democratic process, voting and group discussion.

These freedoms allow for a wide variety of sober living homes, offering everything from modest to luxury accommodations. Sober living homes may be found all over the country, in a variety of settings. Some cater to a particular gender or people who are recovering from a particular type of addiction. Others work in tandem with a local treatment provider or host 12-Step meetings within the home. Residents are often welcome to live in these homes for as long as they need, but length of stay depends largely on the needs of the residents and availability within the home.

Sober Living by the Numbers and Beyond

When it comes to statistics, experts agree that it is difficult to get a full picture of the numbers associated with sober living homes. These homes are not regulated by the government and can be quite unique, which makes them difficult to fully track and count.

“There are so many memories and triggers when you go home but at the sober living home, there were meetings, real accountability and so much support.” – Pamela K., shares with Heroes in Recovery.

Here’s what we do know: Addiction is a serious problem in the United States. The US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates that approximately 23 million people over the age of 12 need help for a substance abuse issue each year. That is an estimated 8.5 percent of the entire US population. In the face of this large number, only 4.2 million of these people (18.5 percent of all people who need treatment) actually receive some type of addiction help. And only around 2.6 million people receive help in a specialty treatment program.2

Sobriety Support is Key

Researchers have also found that social support for recovery and sobriety play a big role in sustained abstinence from drugs and alcohol. It appears that meeting with people who have similar goals and a good understanding about the power of addiction makes a big difference in a person’s ability to stay sober in the long-run.3 People who regularly attend 12-Step meetings are found to have up to 90 percent success in abstaining from addictive substances.4 And sober living offers a big opportunity for residents to meet new friends, find fresh connections and change their own outcomes.

It’s likely that involvement in 12-Step groups and meetings is key to the success of sober living. Mutual support of like-minded peers can strengthen dedication to wellness while providing an opportunity to “give back” to others. The ability to gain a sense of self-empowerment while helping those around you will help strengthen long-term recovery, build a sense of purpose and foster emotional and social healing all at once.5

Another benefit of sober living is that it helps remove individuals in recovery from the people, places and things associated with past substance use. This is an important break. Your likelihood of recovery goes down drastically if you leave formal treatment and return to the friends and family that influenced your substance use in the past.5

No matter how you look at it, social support is key to recovery. Sober living homes are one way to achieve lasting wellness, especially if they are combined with residential treatment or intensive outpatient treatment. People are more likely to relapse in early recovery, so during that vulnerable time, why not use every available resource to promote lasting wellness?


  1. Polcin, Douglas L., and Diane Henderson. A Clean and Sober Place to Live: Philosophy, Structure, and Purported Therapeutic Factors in Sober Living Houses. Journal of psychoactive drugs 40.2 (2008): 153–159. Print.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services (N-SSATS): 2016. Data on Substance Abuse Treatment Facilities. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; 2014. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-489. BHSIS Series S-73. Web. Retrieved 20 Dec 2017.
  3. Bond J, Kaskutas LA, Weisner C. The persistent influence of social networks and Alcoholics Anonymous on abstinence. Journal of Studies on Alcohol. 2003;64:579–588. Web. Retrieved 20 Dec 2017.
  4. Sussman, S. A Review of Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous Programs for Teens. Evaluation & the health professions 33.1 (2010): 26–55. PMC. Web. Retrieved 20 Dec 2017.\
  5. Polcin, Douglas L. et al. What Did We Learn from Our Study on Sober Living Houses and Where Do We Go from Here? Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 42.4 (2010): 425–433. Print. Web. Retrieved 20 Dec 2017.