An addiction is built through a series of small steps. In the beginning, the person chooses to use drugs or alcohol. Then, that use begins to escalate. In the end, the use is no longer under the person’s control. Overcoming an issue like this isn’t as simple as walking back down those steps. The changes that take place within the person’s heart and mind as the addiction moves forward can leave deep scars, and it can take a lifetime of hard work to keep a relapse to drug use from taking place. That’s why experts, such as those writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggest that addictions should be thought of as chronic conditions. Once an addiction has taken over, these experts suggest, the focus should shift to long-term care solutions, including medications and intense monitoring. For some people, that means living in a sober living home.
A Reasonable Next Step
At the end of a rehab program for addiction, people will know quite a bit about how addictions develop and why they can be so very dangerous. They will have no active drugs in their bodies, and as a result, they can pass through a urine test for drugs with flying colors. They’ll be well versed in the language of recovery, and they may have an entire set of responses they can use when the urge to revert to drugs begins to grow. In short, they’ll be well on their way to handling their addictions on their own. However, there are still major roadblocks that stand in the way between the person and a full recovery. For example, a study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review found a link between high levels of stress and a relapse to drug use. People who feel under attack, upset and worried, have increased activity in the same portion of the brain that handles drug cravings. It’s a primal response, and all the therapy in the world can’t make that response go away. Only practice can help people learn how to think in new ways. Sometimes, a standard rehab program just doesn’t last long enough to allow people to practice handling their addiction triggers.
Addictions can also be buried deep inside day-to-day habits the person has cultivated over a long period of time. Using drugs within the first 10 minutes of waking up seems reasonable, as does following a cup of coffee with a soothing marijuana cigarette. These ingrained habits can be very hard to break when the person returns home after a short stay in a rehab program. All of the old haunts and familiar spaces contain subtle cues that lead a person back into using and abusing drugs. Once again, the more time that’s spent practicing relapse prevention skills, the more likely it might be that the person can succeed in long-term sobriety. Sober living homes provide that opportunity.
Providing Safety and Structure
Everyone who lives in a sober living home must be free of drugs and alcohol, and that rule might be enforced through periodic urine testing. Rooms might also be searched from time to time, just to ensure that residents aren’t hiding addictive substances. Visitors to sober living homes must also be sober when they arrive, and they also must refrain from bringing addictive substances onto the premises. These steps ensure that everyone who lives in the community has a safe place to live, free of the temptation to use and abuse substances.
Sobriety rules might be important to the success of sober living homes, but there are other rules residents are required to follow, and these rules might be slightly harder for people to understand at first.
For example, common rules require residents to:
Participate in household chores
Attend house sobriety meetings
Keep all therapy appointments
Hold down a job or volunteer in the community
Submit to a curfew
These rules might seem confining, but they’re designed to help people learn how to structure their days without leaning on drugs as punctuation. Addictions can be incredibly time consuming, and people with addictions might be accustomed to arranging their days around all the tasks they need to follow to obtain, prepare and take drugs. Sober living communities strive to help people find new ways to fill up their time.
By asking people to work, sober living homes are teaching people how to develop these life skills, and remember what it’s like to be a productive and valuable member of society. This could help them to maintain their sobriety in the years to come.
Some of these rules can also provide real benefits in terms of relapse prevention. For example, a study in the journal Substance Use and Misusefound a link between steady employment and success in a drug rehab program. It’s easy to see why this would be the case. Having a job provides people with a sense of purpose. They have somewhere to go each and every morning, and their days pass in rewarding activities that bring them money they can use to feed their families and provide them with shelter.
Help for the Family+
Addictions can cause serious rifts within a family, and sometimes, those wounds take a long time to heal. Violence, in particular, can fray the ties that hold a family together, and it can make the recovery process a bit more complicated. In a study of the issue, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, researchers found that 39 percent of women participated in some form of spouse abuse, and this abuse was more likely if the women abused alcohol or drugs. Other studies have found a link between male use of substances and spousal abuse. Families who have been through these situations may find that they simply cannot support each other adequately and they need time to build up a healthier, safer relationship. Sober living homes may help, as people may find it easy to visit with one another and communicate with one another on neutral turf. They’re not cohabitating, so the risk of violence breaking out is low, and they can slowly learn to trust one another once more.People who are new to sobriety might also struggle with the idea of living with others who continue to use. Wine bottles in the refrigerator, lines of cocaine on the coffee table, or needles with heroin in the drawers could all be temptations that are much too strong to ignore, and they could be cause for conflicts between the recovering person and his/her family. Those temptations don’t exist in a sober living community, as mentioned, and while the person lives here, perhaps family members can work on their own addictions and eventually provide a home for the addicted person that doesn’t include multiple opportunities for relapse.
A Separate Form of Care+
It’s important to note that sober living communities aren’t considered the same as a residential rehab program. Unlike a rehab program, a sober living community typically doesn’t provide:
On-site therapists or addiction professionals
Instead, these programs run through peer support, and each person is asked to work with his/her therapist on an ongoing basis to continue learning about addiction and recovery. A sober living home doesn’t really treat an addiction as much as support the treatment that’s already ongoing.
Since sober living communities aren’t treatment programs and there’s no medical professional overseeing the work that goes on, there’s no specific set of guidelines that can dictate when a person is considered “cured” and ready to move home once more. Often, it’s considered a personal decision the person makes in concert with his/her family and his/her therapist. Stays of several months aren’t uncommon, but some people choose to stay enrolled for years.
Sober living homes can be expensive, and often, insurance companies won’t pay for the care. It’s not considered therapy, after all, and just as an insurance company might not pay for an apartment for an ailing person, they might balk at paying the fees associated with these communities. Before families agree to pay these charges on their own, they might demand to see proof that this form of treatment works. Protecting their investment is reasonable, and thankfully, there are many studies that do seem to suggest that these facilities can bring about real results for people who need help.
In one study, published in the journal Substance Use and Misuse, researchers found that 93 percent of people who graduated from a therapeutic community had improvements in drug use rates five years later. They had learned how to handle their cravings, and years down the line, they had put their lessons to good use and they were still living full and healthy lives. Studies like this seem to suggest that sober living homes are a valuable ally in the fight against addiction, and that people who live in these facilities are able to build on their successes gained in rehab.
Finding the Right Program
When the person is still using drugs, this isn’t the time to think about sober living homes. The person still needs to go through detox and rehab, and those steps can take months to complete. When that work is done, the person’s counselor might have excellent suggestions about sober living communities that can help. Families that hire an interventionist might also be able to tap into that person’s expertise. Interventionists can do more than simply help a family hold a difficult talk about addiction. Some can stay involved throughout the course of the treatment process, ensuring that the person has access to the right kind of help needed to fight the addiction. These case managers could be quite helpful when the family chooses to look for a sober living home. If you’d like to find a family mediator like this, please call us. We’re happy to match you with a professional who can help.