Living in a Sober House: What Can You Expect?

Post Image

When it comes to living in a sober house (halfway house), there are a lot of misconceptions about what it actually entails. Many people believe that sober houses are full of criminals and miscreants.

Traditionally, halfway houses were intended to provide housing for people recently released from incarceration or people with mental disabilities. It would help them to slowly acclimate them to regular society. Essentially, they’re group homes meant to provide safety for its residents and the surrounding community.
However, today, living in a sober house is so much more.

What is a Sober House?

The newer and more realistic look at sober houses is a lot more palpable. Now, sober houses are primarily properties owned by a third party, separate from treatment centers. They are a buffer for recently discharged clients between the protection of treatment and the real world.

A halfway house usually houses other newly recovering addicts and alcoholics. The halfway house sports a variety of rules such as primarily no drugs or alcohol usage, curfew enforcement, as well as possessing employment. Often times, clients are subjected to random drug testing as well as being breathalyzed. These rules help keep its residents accountable while still allowing freedom to live in the real world. It’s “halfway” between treatment and the outside world.

Sober houses are usually their own entity and operate separately from any government body. There is no government funding. The residents of the sober house pay rent to stay in the home and the owner of the house maintains sole responsibility for its upkeep and maintenance. These sober houses typically employ the 12-step program of recovery as their philosophy, emphasizing meeting attendance and active participation in recovery.

So- what’s it really like?

Movin’ On Up

My experience with living in a sober house is firsthand. When I originally arrived in Florida for treatment, I had not intended to stay after my stint in treatment was over. However, whether it be fate or merely by chance, I ended up deciding to give recovery in South Florida a go. I completed my treatment and immediately moved into a local halfway house. I was 18 and very inexperienced when it came to life. It was the first time I ever lived on my own.

When I first arrived, it was far beyond my expectations. It was like something out of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Often, we envision a sober house as a derelict, run down home in a sketchy part of town. This particular sober house was a beautiful three-story, brand new townhome/mini-mansion. With its marble countertops and plush wall-to-wall carpets, it was even nicer than my house back at home.

There were about 12 girls living there. Most sober houses are gender-specific. It’s typically better this way. There was a “house mom”, one of the clients of the home with longer sobriety who received prorated rent in exchange for acting as the liaison between the owners and the other residents. She was in charge of maintaining structure and order in the house, which is not easy with a dozen females in early recovery.

I was wary about sharing a house with a dozen other girls considering I was an only child. I was overcome with fear and anxiety, unsure of myself or my surroundings. It was overwhelming. Fortunately, the girls, for the most part, were very welcoming. I knew that living in a sober house was the suggested step after treatment. I just held out until I made the right choice.

Sober House Shuffle

After about a month and a half at this luxury halfway house, I was all settled into halfway life. I learned very quickly to label my food (though this usually didn’t protect it from being eaten) and to always do my chores before I left the house in the morning.

However, at this stage in my life, I was nowhere near ready to truly put my all into recovery. I skated by doing the bare minimum, got a little retail job, and would get my 12-step meeting lists signed and never stay for the meeting.

I ended up being discharged from the halfway house for failing a drug test. It really made me angry considering that it was a false positive. I failed for benzos when I was really doing opiates. Regardless, eviction from the house was enforced.

Another sober house took me in. I stayed here for a few months until I moved out on my own where I once again relapsed. However, the times I spent sober there were some of the best times of my life.

I learned what it meant to hold a job and live copacetically with others. It wasn’t nearly as nice as the first house but I still enjoyed the experience. I eventually ended up in treatment once again after using in my own place for a few months.

Beware the Flop House

When it comes to sober houses, they are definitely not all created equal. The sober house I went to after completing my second treatment was dirty and full of girls using. Needless to say, this was not the best place for someone in early recovery. Out of the 10 girls living at the halfway, only 2 were not actively using.

Many sober houses allow continual relapse and rule breaking so long as you continue to pay rent. This is lovingly referred to as a “flop house”. Essentially, flop houses provide a safe harbor for addicts who are actively using and engaging in other negative behaviors.

They are typically run-down and poorly cared for, creating a dangerous environment for recovering people. Ultimately, it’s not conducive to the spiritual and emotional growth that a sober house is supposed to incite.

Before moving into a halfway house blindly, always scope it out first. Make sure that the residents are actively working in recovery. Also, as much as you may not like it, make sure that the rules are strictly enforced. Proper structure is crucial for addicts in early recovery.

Miracles Do Happen

After continuing to relapse the first two months I stayed at the flop house, I finally was at a crossroad in my life. The sober house manager decided to let me stay despite my latest relapse. Even though it was not the best environment to get clean, I made the decision to truly give myself to the program. The beginning three months of my recovery were here in this less-than-optimal sober house. But I found success in early sobriety because I wanted it.

After a few months, I made the move to a different sober house. It operated as a ¾ way home, which is very similar to a halfway house, only with even more lenient rules. This is where my recovery truly took off. Thanks to the combined effort of having the desire to get clean as well as the great structure provided by my sober house, I have found and maintained recovery for almost four years.

Sober Houses- Do They Work?

The recidivism rates of residents of sober houses have long since been under scrutiny and up for debate. In my personal experience yes, they did work for me. I have seen both sides of the spectrum when it comes to sober living.Whether or not they are constructive rather than detrimental is up to you.

When I originally immigrated to South Florida, I was an 18-year-old with no real-world experience. I had absolutely no ability to live or function on my own. Through staying in sober houses, I learned accountability, responsibility, how to compromise, how to cook and clean for myself, and most of all how to live a functioning life as a sober individual.

Despite the kicking and screaming through the process, I am utterly grateful for the year I spent in sober living.

When the time finally came to move out on my own, I possessed the life skills and confidence in my recovery to maintain my routine without supervision. I followed the suggestions, obtained a year of sobriety, and learned how to successfully be an adult. A sober house will work if you allow it to. I believe it is a crucial and priceless step in the recovery process. It not only saved my life, it gave me one.


If you or someone you know is currently struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, call  Ocean Breeze Recovery today! Our professional and knowledgeable staff who can get you the help you need to reclaim your life!





Alyssa Harbina
Content Writer

Alyssa has been working in the addiction treatment field for three years, and has worked with Delphi Behavioral Health for a year and a half. Throughout most of her life, she’s dabbled in creative writing. Now she’s able to combine her passion for writing with her desire to help addicts and alcoholics struggling with the disease of addiction.

Related Reading

Leave a Comment