Do Sober Living Houses Help in Addiction Recovery?

A non 12 step approach to recovery promotes individuals to continue on to a sober living home after completing inpatient drug or alcohol rehab. While living in sober living homes, individuals can participate in outpatient services where there are opportunities for individuals to receive evidence-based addiction treatment. But do sober living houses help, and just how effective are they? One group of researchers put together a study to answer this question.

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Do Sober Living Houses Help? One Study Says Yes.

The VH1 television show “Sober House” with Dr. Drew has popularized the concept of sober living houses. However, sober living houses are not just reality TV constructs. California in particular offers a wide array of sober living houses for addiction recovery. But do these long-term living environments truly help individuals who have been through alcohol and drug rehab, or is this simply a fad fueled by media hype? A study from the Alcohol Research Group and the California Pacific Medical Center suggests that sober living houses do indeed offer benefits for individuals in addiction recovery (Polcin et. al., 2010).

Sober Living Houses: The Hypothesis and Context

The researchers hypothesized that long-term abstinence for drug- and alcohol-dependent individuals might be enhanced by sober living houses — alcohol- and drug-free environments that support addiction recovery. Most individuals who move into sober living houses have recently completed inpatient drug or alcohol rehab programs and want to continue their recovery. Costs are typically covered by resident fees, and in most sober living houses residents may stay as long as they want.

The Study

In the current study researchers followed 300 individuals who entered two different types of sober living houses. One house was associated with an outpatient addiction treatment program, and 55 of the individuals went there. The other house, which was not affiliated with any kind of formal treatment program, received the other 245 participants in the study. Using mixed model regressions, the researchers examined changes in alcohol, drug, and other problems at 6 months and 12 months after entrance into a sober living house.

The Results

So, do sober living houses help? The results showed that participants in both types of sober living homes experienced significant reductions in their maximum number of days of substance use per month from baseline to 6 months. Further, these reductions were maintained at 12 months. Addiction severity index scales in the study measured alcohol, drug, employment, and legal problems; in all areas, participants maintained significant improvement or low severity of problems at 6 and 12 months after entering a sober living house. However, it is important to note that individuals who entered a sober living house with severe problems did not improve or improved only modestly.

“Addiction recovery systems should recognize the potential utility of [sober living houses] and examine the types of houses that are feasible in specific communities,” the authors conclude. Although sober living houses may be viable options for individuals who have successfully completed an inpatient addiction rehab program and perhaps some individuals in outpatient programs, this study suggests that individuals need to eliminate severe addiction problems before entering a sober house.

Polcin DL, Korcha R, Bond J, Galloway G, Lapp W. Recovery from addiction in two types of sober living houses: 12-month outcomes. Addiction Research and Theory. Posted online 28 June 2010.

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