In an article in the journal Addiction, researchers suggest that a relapse to drug use is simply part and parcel of the healing process. People who have intensive struggles with drugs and alcohol just have a lot to learn and a lot to change as they recover, and sometimes, they might stray from the path of sobriety. These experts suggest that binary thinking about the concept of relapse isn’t really helpful, as most people with addictions tend to make slow, steady, incremental improvements over a long period of time before they’re capable of keeping their cravings under strict control.

If this concept holds true, it means that addictions can’t always be completely cured with a stint in treatment. Instead, it suggests that people with addictions have a long journey ahead of them before they learn how to live a life that’s truly sober, with no relapse on the horizon. A sober living home may provide the right environment that can support a person on this kind of healing journey.

Structured Support

Addicted people who aren’t enrolled in residential programs need a place to sleep, eat, get dressed and relax. They need a roof, a kitchen, a closet and furniture. They need a home, in other words, but the homes they have at the moment might not be safe places for them to live as they continue to work on healing.

Their homes might contain:

  • Alcohol, drugs, cold medications, cleaning supplies and other intoxicating substances
  • Family members or roommates who use
  • Mementos from drug-using days
  • Memories of the pleasure drugs once delivered

Living in a home like this is just hard, as the person is surrounded by hundreds of tiny little barbs that put recovery in jeopardy. In addition, the environment is just familiar. It’s the place the person has always lived, filled with the things the person has always had. It’s hard to change life when the old life still seems so present.

A sober living home provides many of the amenities a person might have in his or her home. Furniture, appliances, bathrooms, kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms and food are all part of the package in a sober home. But there are some important differences, as a sober home is specifically designed to support the recovery process. As a result, absolutely no intoxicating substances are allowed, and everyone who lives in the home agrees to be clean and sober at all times. It’s a place that’s both sober and safe.

Since the home is designed to assist with recovery, people who live here are also provided with important lessons about building a healthy life that’s free of intoxication. During their time in a home like this, they learn how to juggle the demands of work and home, and they learn how a routine can give structure and value to each day. A typical client stays in the home for about five months, according to a study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, and the time spent can be transformative.

Helpful Peers

Sober living homes aren’t designed to be solitary affairs. In fact, the designers of facilities like this suggest that real healing can only take hold when other people are directly involved in the process. That’s why sober homes tend to use a communal format. People may have their own bedrooms, but they may share kitchens and general spaces. Residents are also expected to discuss issues openly in mandatory meetings, and residents are expected to support one another and coach one another, propping one another up as they heal.

This communal living can sound strange, particularly to people who have been living in intense isolation due to their addiction concerns, but leaning on others and learning from peers really can make a huge difference in the recovery process. For example, in a study in the journal Substance Use and Misuse, researchers found that women with addictions tended to have strong responses to life’s stresses, and they tended to have few peers they could talk to and work with. When they were stressed, they medicated with drugs instead of getting help from friends. It’s common, and it can be a hard habit to break.

A sober home can help, as people who live there are surrounded by people who understand. There’s no need to make appointments to see friends, and there’s no reason to call and leave desperate messages, in the hopes that someone would answer. In a sober home, people have peers right down the hall. They may learn how to trust, and as their lives improve, they may learn how to make healthier connections. Isolation may fade, and a sober home may be part of that change.

Some people make such tight connections during their stint in a sober home that they stay in touch when the parties return to their own homes. Their roommates and friends become part of an extended family, and the ties they form in treatment make the rest of life a little easier to bear. But even if the group doesn’t form a persistent bond like this, just having helpful peers available during treatment could be the key that leads to healing. Friendships may not form, but the help might be just as valid.

Continued Learning

While informal chats between peers might be vital for some people in recovery, the real learning and growth that can lead to sobriety sometimes requires a bit of formal structure. Sober homes address this by focusing on a 12-Step model of recovery. Clients are expected to attend meetings on a regular basis, and the terms used in Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous might infuse the conversations people have in a sober home. When times are tough, residents might be told to call sponsors or go to a meeting, and when things improve, clients might be asked to share their work in a separate meeting. These little tips can be vital, as the 12-Step model has been proven effective in the fight against addiction.

In a study of the issue, in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, researchers found that going to meetings at least weekly was associated with abstinence. Attending meetings even more frequently brought about even bigger returns. By mandating involvement in these meetings, sober homes might be providing residents with the tools they’ll need to build a lasting sobriety.

Rebuilding a Life

While talking with understanding peers and getting help when needed is a vital part of the recovery process, people also need to address the damage an addiction has caused before they can consider themselves healed. Often, that means dealing with parts of life that have little to nothing to do with addiction, such as:

  • Employment
  • Budgeting
  • Parenting
  • Physical fitness
  • Healthy eating

People who can handle these sorts of activities are generally considered in control, and according to a study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, those who have high self-efficacy scores tend to stay sober, while those who don’t tend to relapse. As long as people think they can handle the challenges that life throws in their direction, they tend to avoid the temptation to use, as doing so might put their happy life in jeopardy.

Sober homes can help people to make good habits. Rules in these homes tend to require clients to get jobs, pay bills and connect with community resources. Some homes even require residents to take community courses that can help them to develop a fitness program, a healthful diet and a sound financial plan. In the beginning, the rules enforce participation. But by the time the program is through, people may find that they’re pulling their lives together voluntarily, and that they’re ready to live independently without running the risk of relapse.

Efficacy Rates

It’s hard to measure the success or failure of programs like this, as most studies tend to focus exclusively on issues of sobriety. A person who has just one drink and then never drinks again might still be a failure in this model, meaning that studies might not show the true efficacy of participation. Even so, the studies that have been done do seem to suggest that sober homes have the remarkable ability to help people to change their lives.

In one such study, in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, researchers found that sober homes were able to promote abstinence, and that people who participated tended to be sober at the 18-month follow-up point. This seems to suggest that people who enroll in these homes do tend to learn and grow, and the lessons of these homes tend to persist over a long period of time. It’s just the sort of help someone with an addiction might need.

If you’d like to find out more about sober living homes, or you need a little more information about how different addiction treatment programs work, please call us at Black Bear Lodge. Our admissions coordinators would be happy to help.