“A person’s environment includes many different influences, from family and friends to economic status and general quality of life. Factors such as peer pressure, physical and sexual abuse, early exposure to drugs, stress, and parental guidance can greatly affect a person’s likelihood of drug use and addiction.” – the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
A person’s environment is a key risk factor for substance abuse and addiction. If drugs are constantly available, if the person is surrounded by drug-using peers, or even by toxic relationships (such as a stressful family dynamic), he or she may be more likely to use drugs.
This goes for preliminary drug use, and also for relapse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, stress cues linked to the drug experience – such as people, places, things, and general exposure to drugs and alcohol – are some of the most common relapse triggers for people in recovery.
If you are in recovery and making every effort to live sober, it is important to establish a sober living environment that promotes a positive, healthy recovery. What is a sober living environment, exactly?
A sober living environment, often called sober living housing (SLH), is a substance-free living environment for individuals attempting to abstain from drugs and alcohol. Simply put, it’s a healthy and safe place to call home while you are in recovery.
Typically, sober living environments act as intermediate living situations for people who have completed a treatment program and are transitioning back to mainstream life. Transitional housing and halfway housing are other, alternative names for sober living homes. These are dedicated residences for individuals who do not have an accessible, healthy living situation after treatment, or whose sobriety may be jeopardized at home. These established environments are filled with people in recovery, with similar experiences and goals, who hold one another accountable every day.
Of course, these are not the only ways to live sober. If you live in a safe neighborhood, have sober-supportive relationships, and are committed to living drug-free outside of treatment, you can create an effective sober living environment in your own home, as well, with the below components put forth. However, if you become too occupied with struggling to keep your home safe and stable, consider a formal sober living environment or treatment, as this can wane on your ability to stay sober and heal.
The Key Components of a Sober Living Environment
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) lists “home” as one of the top pillars of a successful recovery. In order to live sober, you must have a stable and safe place to live, where your sobriety will not be threatened. In addition, a sober living environment must support three other dimensions of recovery, including:
- Health – A healthy mind, body, and lifestyle are key contributors to a successful recovery. Your living environment should make it achievable to manage your addiction, and encourage informed, healthy choices that support your physical and mental well-being.
- Purpose – Filling each day with meaning can promote a positive recovery. Your sober home should support any healthy, daily activities (such as cleaning, classes, or your career) and your independence as you re-discover your purpose in society. You should never feel bored or without purpose, as this is a gateway back to drug abuse.
- Community – Healthy relationships are the cornerstone of recovery. Your sober living environment should be filled with a sober, social network of peers who can offer support, friendship, and hope.
Perhaps you are a college student, seeking sober dorms or seeking to make your living space more conducive to your sober lifestyle. Maybe you have your own apartment, with a sober friend you met while in treatment, and looking to create the best sober living arrangement possible. Or, you may be seeking a transitional, sober housing environment, and want to know what to look for. In any case, knowing what will support a healthy recovery is key. Below are the most critical components of a sober living environment, based on SAMHSA’s pillars above:
- A substance-free home, where alcohol and drugs are not allowed.
- Temptation-free surroundings, where you will not feel pressured or tempted by outside triggers such as bars/nightlife in the neighborhood.
- Accessibility to your 12-step meetings, the gym, the grocery store, and other everyday amenities that support your recovery.
- House rules, such as maintaining abstinence, paying rent and bills on time, completing regular chores, and hold/attending regular house meetings. This may also include strictly controlling incoming guests (as well as substances).
- Regular drug testing, with consequences as needed. This will keep you accountable for your choices and your sobriety.
- A structured routine, which is encouraged and maintained in your sober living environment. This may involve work, school, or an intensive, outpatient program. A daily regime will ensure you continue to find purpose and meaning in life. It will also keep you busy, leaving no room for boredom or loneliness (which are potential relapse triggers).
- Healthy belongings that support a healthy and clean recovery. Get rid of anything that may trigger cravings, difficult memories, or that simply don’t “spark joy” in your sober life.
- Positive people that fully support your recovery. Keep away from toxic people and relationships that could lead you back to drug use. Find a living arrangement where mutual support and encouragement is always there when you need it most.
- A judgement-free environment, where everyone is accepted and supported in their journey towards sobriety.
- Participation in 12-step meetings and/or other recovery support groups. According to a study of 300 individuals in sober living homes, 12-step involvement was found to bolster abstinence. In fact, it was found that most SLHs require (or strongly encourage) residents to attend meetings or actively work a 12-step recovery program – obtaining a sponsor, working the steps, volunteering, etc.
According the study cited above, residents in formal, sober living environments (such as transitional, sober homes) significantly reduce or stop their substance abuse within months of moving in, and maintain those improvements at 6, 12, and 18 months. Specifically, 6-month abstinence rates improved from 11% at the start, to 68% at 6- and 12-months in.
This report also found that certain factors can enhance the benefits of a sober living environment. Specifically, the people who benefit most from a sober living arrangement include:
- Those who have completed residential drug treatment
- Those who are attending outpatient treatment
- Those seeking non-treatment alternatives for recovery/sobriety
- Those entering the community after spending time in prison
If you are ready to live sober, but do not know where to start, you can always contact Turnbridge at 877-581-1793. Turnbridge is a young adult addiction treatment center with dedicated sober living homes throughout Connecticut. We are here for you.