Sobriety is hard – not just because addiction carries a powerful allure, but because often enough, we tend to become addicted to a substance in order to mask or distract from a deeper issue.
It’s never impossible to become sober, and stick to sobriety. But it’s not easy, either. Some people have the capacity to join a harsh and radical monastery or go cold turkey. Others simply wake up one day and find the motivation they need to quit.
For most, however, it’s a much lengthier journey, and there’s not much simple about it. These are the cases where regular therapy, group therapy or a home-based support group simply isn’t enough of a follow-up to rehabilitation, especially in cases with serious hospitalization and the risk of relapse. Instead, sober living environments exist specifically for people who want to make sure they get the best start into a sober life.
Let’s get a few things straight before we talk about sober living homes, and what makes a good one.
How Addiction Can Take Over the Mind
The thing about addiction is that it’s a highly varied affliction. Some call it a brain disease, others think that definition is too fatalistic. But everyone agrees that addiction is something that happens for several reasons from family history to gender, any combination of which can come from and lead to entirely different circumstances and a different treatment approach.
Take, for example, someone who is simply genetically predisposed towards being susceptible to the effects of alcohol, while having a history of alcoholism in the family. Science tells us that chances are higher that it won’t take very much to get this person physically dependent on alcohol.
In other cases, physical dependency is created over time, through emotional and mental circumstances. Addiction can develop as a maladaptive coping mechanism to serious trauma, or to deal with the effects of depression.
Addiction can also arise from self-medication, especially with pain meds, or emotional struggles. Someone with absolutely no mental health history or emotional problems can get hooked on a substance or behavior, for other reasons such as peer pressure, the addictiveness of a substance or a predisposition towards getting hooked on a certain behavior.
Addiction as a Mask
Addiction is dangerous for more than just the chance of overdose – addiction can lead to life-threatening situations, suicidal tendencies, and it can cover up and mask the symptoms of a much deeper, more pervasive psychological issue.
There’s no simple, quick or 100% reliable approach towards a case of addiction. But one thing is always for certain – in order to remain sober, an addict needs to stay away from their addiction. Because of that, sober living environments are common options for cases where relapse is a high possibility, either because of a person’s deep history with addiction, or because of the circumstances and nature of the addiction (highly addictive substances like heroin are much harder to recover from).
What’s a Sober Living Environment Like?
Sober living environments are typically the transitional point between hardcore dedicated rehabilitation facilities and a home-based, outpatient care system. The path to permanent sobriety is long, and eventually ends with you keeping on a continuous struggle against the possibility of a relapse – and while it does get much easier with time, the first few stages of getting to that level of autonomous sobriety can be difficult.
As a transition, a sober living environment is less intensive than your typical rehab experience but still provides an environment entirely free from stimuli that could suggest or bring about a relapse in addiction, whether through a stimulation of addictive behavior or a drug addiction.
A sober living environment should be capable of addressing a number of different addictions by providing an environment specifically designed to cater to anybody from any background, and help keep them away from any addictive stimuli in a prejudice-free, emotionally-safe environment.
However, just preventing you from having access to drugs, or contact with your old friends from that world, isn’t enough. Sober living environments aren’t meant to be hellish, and frustrating, and testing of the fabric of your patience – they’re meant to be transformative in a positive way.
That’s achieved by actively replacing the bad coping mechanisms and destructive habits introduced by your addiction with positive habits, and the kind of therapeutic self-help behavior that you can carry on towards a sober life lived among others, away from the specialized sober living environment.
Part of the experience is about introducing new enjoyable hobbies and habits to replace addictive behavior and create a healthier, happier life through better diet and exercise. Another part of the experience can be giving recovering addicts reign over their life by instilling disciplined responsibility, through chores and cleaning habits and mandatory job seeking.
Factors of Healthy Sober Living Environments
Like therapists and treatment options, sober living environments come in different shapes, sizes, and philosophical approaches. They’re available all over the country, in Los Angeles, New York, Houston, and cities across all 50 states. Directories online exist to make your search easier, with over 500 sober living homes in Texas alone – and more popping up over the years.
Yet despite the many sober living homes, America has a problem with successful addiction treatment. The rehab industry is often seen as a successful one due to the names and money involved, but only a fraction of addicts in the US get the treatment they really need. Furthermore, America’s overall drug problem has barely receded or merely stabilized, despite decades of anti-drug messaging and an extended War on Drugs.
The point? We need better care for our drug addicts, and treatment options that help them make their sobriety permanent. That’s where specific factors become important when considering an sober living environment for long-term sobriety and post-rehab care, such as:
- Thorough involvement in work, school, or a busy outpatient program.
- Regular drug testing.
- Participation in mandatory group recovery meetings.
- Strict control of incoming guests, and substances.
- Tolerance and acceptance, a prejudice-free environment.
The Journey Goes On
Here in America, sober living homes are separate from rehab centers and halfway houses. They’re meant to provide an intensive, sobriety-focused environment for recovering addicts with high chances of relapse, giving them a place to go after rehab to continue learning how to stay clean and keep out of trouble.
It’s not meant to be a place of treatment, but more so a place of training. You’re meant to move on from your sober living environment with the mindset and toolset needed to keep yourself sober – including a network of new friends in the world of addiction recovery, for motivation and emotional support.
It’s a long, healthy road from here on out – and even after a sober living experience, the chances of a relapse aren’t necessarily nonexistent. A sober living environment should help you learn not just how to stay sober, but how to get sober and keep yourself from falling into a spiral of guilt after a single mistake. Sobriety is always achievable – it just takes time. The good news is that it always get easier and easier, as long as you keep at it.