Overcoming an addiction can involve a variety of services, interventions, and therapeutic techniques. Anyone who devotes time researching how to defeat an addiction is likely to become quite familiar with words such as detox, medication assisted treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy, psycho-educational groups, the 12-step model, and many, many other related terms.
However, these activities and procedures are not the only elements that are necessary to ensure a successful recovery experience. Environment can also play an essential role in determining whether or not a person will be able to achieve and maintain lifelong sobriety from alcohol or other drugs.
In some phases of a person’s recovery journey, the importance of environment is self-evident. For example, one of the clear benefits of medically monitored detox and residential care are the environments in which these experiences occur. In these controlled environments, individuals benefit from the absence of dangerous substances, reduced exposure to the stresses and pressures of daily life, and the presence of experienced professionals and other sources of support.
However, the importance of environment does not end when a person completes a detox program or residential treatment. In fact, the environment to which a person returns following these structured experiences can have a significant impact on whether he or she will be able to remain drug-free. For an individual who cannot rely on friends and family to provide post-treatment support, a sober living home or transitional living program may be the ideal environment in which to continue his or her walk toward long-term recovery.
As their names indicate, sober living homes and transitional living programs are designed to help men and women maintain their recovery as they progress out of a structured treatment environment and begin to re-establish more independent and self-reliant lifestyles. Sometimes referred to as halfway houses, transitional living programs and sober living houses are typically designed for individuals who have completed a residential program but who can benefit from continued structure and assistance as they learn to deal with the stresses and pressures of life in a productive and healthy manner without relapsing into substance abuse.
The specific policies, procedures, and services that are provided by sober living houses and transitional living programs may vary depending upon several factors, including but not limited to the philosophies of the programs with which they are affiliated and the requirements of the states in which they operate. That said, the following are among the features that are commonly associated with transitional living programs and sober living houses throughout the United States:
A drug-free environment: As noted earlier on this page, the absence of temptation can be an important benefit to individuals in early recovery. This benefit is not limited to individuals who are completing detox or are participating in a residential program. Part of maintaining recovery is learning to avoid or resist situations that can trigger relapse; however, especially in early recovery, being able to reside in a drug-free environment can be a vital source of support.
Professional support: Some sober or transitional programs may offer round-the-clock supervision as well as a schedule of therapeutic activities, while others may provide minimal supervision and far less structure. Again, this may depend on several factors. However, all sober living houses and transitional living programs will provide some level of interaction between professionals and residents. For people who are taking their first steps into independent sobriety, the opportunity to speak with a trusted professional can be an invaluable benefit.
Increased independence: One of the main differentiators between life in a residential program and time spent in a sober living house or transitional living programs is the amount of time and effort that is dedicated to re-establishing one’s independence. Residential programs provide participants with a temporary respite from the demands of the outside world in order to allow the participants to focus on healing. At the sober living or transitional level, participants are encouraged and, in some cases, required to increase their exposure to non-treatment-based environments.
Practical instruction: Fundamental life skills such as healthy interpersonal communication and effective problem-solving capabilities are addressed at some level in virtually all comprehensive addiction treatment programs. However, individuals in sober living houses and transitional living programs may be in need of specific practical instruction in areas such as re-joining the workforce, applying for and succeeding in school, navigating the court system, and other such issues.
Fellowship and community: In addition to working with professionals, individuals who participate in sober living houses and transitional living programs also have many chances to interact with others who are in early recovery. Group therapy sessions, recreational activities, 12-step support groups, and even meals are among the many formal and informal forums through which men and women will have the opportunity to connect with others in the recovery community. Learning from others, sharing experiences, and giving and receiving support are essential experiences that can provide lifelong support.
No two sober living houses or transitional living programs are identical, and no two individuals will have the same experience either during or after their time in such an environment. However, as indicated above, these programs offer myriad benefits to people who are taking their first steps along the path of lifelong recovery. As is also the case with detox programs, residential treatment centers, or even outpatient therapists, the goal is not to determine which is objectively best. Instead, an individual should evaluate all aspects of the sober/transitional environments that they are considering in order to determine which option is the best fit for him- or herself.