Maintaining sobriety is an individual journey, and not necessarily something you can give a step-by-step instruction on. Every individual has to decide for themselves how best to deal with the challenges and struggles that lay ahead – but there are many different ways to mitigate the risk of relapse and help someone figure out their own way.
Addiction treatment – that is, recovery programs and resources – have always centered on helping a patient get sober and stay sober. For decades, psychologists and doctors have puzzled on how best to help addicts. The cruelest of methods certainly never work and punishing addicts through prison sentences always sends them right back where they started. Doing nothing, however, doesn’t help either, and too often leads to death.
Addiction has been deemed a brain disease, but there is no medication for it. No pill to pop, no shot to take. There are substances that can help a patient survive an overdose or lessen the physical and psychological impact of withdrawal – but for all intents and purposes, the brain on drugs and the nature of addiction is something we’re closer to understanding than ever, but we don’t fully understand it yet.
But we do know the risk factors that help it develop and grow. The biggest risk factor, outside of a person’s genes, is their environment. Environmental factors are ultimately what push a person to first start using, and that’s what gives way to addiction. Factors like stress, trauma, and pressure all stack onto each other and compound the issue. In much the same way, environment is critical to treating addiction. By helping an individual stick around in the right healthy sober living environment, they can overcome their addiction, and learn to maintain their sobriety – not just in the right environment, but anywhere else too.
A Drug-Free Environment
The first step to the perfect sober living environment is the most important – it has to be completely free from temptations. A drug-free environment is the only way to ensure that an individual doesn’t even have to think about the dilemma of using or not using – just as with addiction itself, they’re left with no choice, initially. The ability to choose is meaningless when only one choice looks appealing – but as time passes and the scales even out, the benefits of staying clean will outweigh the potential of a good time indulging in old habits.
Sober living environments maintain this drug-free rule very strictly. Mandatory random drug testing is common among sober living homes, and tenants caught with drugs are punished as per each sober living home’s rules, from getting kicked out to losing significant privileges.
This can be recreated at home. Maintain a strict no-drug policy at home with your loved one when they return from their program, to help them slowly fit into life after rehab and sober living, although there are challenges to consider.
Plenty to Do
A drug-free environment is the first step to a perfect sober living home. The next step is creating an alternative to drugs.
Addiction happens because the brain responds to the overstimulation provided by drugs in a unique way. Other things, in comparison, begin to dull. Some things are heightened, but only under the influence of the drug. In sobriety, however, the memory of the drug remains – without the high. A big part of learning to stay sober is learning to remember not just what it’s like to be high, but what it’s like to genuinely enjoy and love life and everything it has to offer.
For that, every individual needs a gateway. That stepping stone back into a different life. For some, it’s art, for others it’s food, and yet others it’s a sport. It could be anything. Something you can grow through, something you can learn through, something with which to spend your time. Something to do.
Sober living homes are often structured to offer plenty of amenities. Some are built close to nature or offer regular access to a fully-fledged gym facility. Some sober homes offer art classes or give you the opportunity to practice a musical instrument or take classes for a particular skill and passion. Whatever it may be, you need something to tether you to the idea of staying sober.
Rules and Structures
Boredom can be a terrible thing in early recovery. If you don’t have anything to do, and no structure to go by, your brain might shift its thinking to the most obvious place – your cravings and temptations.
Ignoring them is easier when you’re busy doing something else. Maintaining a rigid daily schedule isn’t that important later on in recovery, when you can afford to be more flexible, but early on, it’s critical to spend as much time as you can doing the things you should be doing.
That, and community, are two reasons why rules and chores are a big part of the perfect sober living environment. By doing something not just for yourself but for others, alongside others, you can help someone regain their trust in people and develop a stronger sense of community. This is important, because when you learn to trust others, you learn to rely on them in times of need, as well. Communities exist so when one of us is down, we help each other pick them back up.
By keeping our surroundings clean and adhering to certain rules, we agree to do good not just for ourselves, but for others. We agree to be reliable to one another. This might seem like a strange lesson for someone struggling with sobriety of all things, but it’s a feeling of loneliness and a lack of connection with others that feeds addiction above all else. The hopeless feeling that no one can help you. Through working with others on the same path as you, you can begin to see that if everyone helped one another through the same struggles, things would be easier.
Sober Needs Are Unique
There are many things that go into creating the perfect sober environment that differ from one individual to the next. Experimentation and flexibility are, then, key. At a certain point, it’s important to listen to an individual’s needs and understand what they are. People grow through recovery and learn to orient themselves differently. Some people find God, or join a religion, or devote themselves to a goal. Others devote themselves to family, or their work. Sober living environments help people find that something.