Jason is just days away from completing an in-patient rehab program. He’s also homeless and has nowhere to go. His caseworker mentioned it’d be a good idea to transition into a sober living home and, although Jason has no idea what a sober living home is, he agreed to go.
It turned out to be a great experience for Jason. He passed regular drug tests, attended 12-step meetings and followed the house rules for curfews, chores and job searches. He lived there for six months, found a job and then moved into apartment.
Unfortunately, not everyone’s sober living story is so “happily ever after.” While Jason’s tale is the goal of these homes, some of them fail to hit the mark.
The State of Sober Living Homes
The high demand for sober living homes creates a wide range of “options.” Some are luxury hotels with in-house chefs that cost up to $7,000 a month; others are run-down shacks where you can get a bed for $250 a month.
The problem isn’t the variety of options; it’s the lack of regulation. Some homes aren’t official treatment centers, so they don’t have to be certified. Believe it or not, you only need a fire permit to open a sober living home.
The lack of regulation creates a potential for corruption and poor conditions – the recipe Doug encountered during his stay at a sober living home. Unfortunately, his experience was quite different from Jason’s.
Here’s a look at a few of the unacceptable red flags that Doug missed:
- Lack of Sobriety: Doug thought he was entering a drug-free zone. It’s what he needed most when he left rehab. He didn’t want to go back to his old neighborhood, because he knew he would succumb to the poor influences there. Unfortunately, several of Doug’s sober living roommates spent their days under the influence. No one ever tested them for drugs, so they continued using.
- Lack of House Management: Doug met the owner of the home when he moved in…and never saw him again. There was no house manager around to enforce rules or provide structure. Doug appreciated giving people freedom, but thought it was strange that no one was around to maintain a safe environment.
- Lack of Rules: Without any supervision of the house, the rules weren’t enforced. Doug heard these places usually made each resident do certain chores and return by a set curfew each night, but nothing was required of Doug – or anyone else, for that matter.
- Lack of Expectations: Doug also thought he would be required to report his 12-step meetings attendance or job searches. But not in this home. He found one other guy who attended a meeting each morning and they started going together. Other than that, he didn’t see any of the guys making progress. Doug thought the point was to help them reintegrate into society, but most seemed to be relapsing.
- Lack of Space: Doug knew there were codes about how many people could live in a house, but he figured there were exceptions for some places. When he moved in, there were just eight residents. But they just kept adding more and more beds. Now there were 18 men in this two-story, five-bedroom home. He began to wonder if the owner was just in this for the rent money.
The Sober Living Outlook
With these poor conditions becoming more common, politicians are pushing for greater regulation of sober homes. Routine inspections, an official accreditation process, ethical codes and consumer protections are just a few of the suggested ways to raise the standards. Others fear too much regulation will reduce the number of good homes available and leave those in recovery with nowhere to go.
Additional Reading: What’s the Deal With This New Sobering Center?
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