Today started out with tears in my coffee. But unlike four or five years ago, this morning’s tears were happy, grateful ones. You see, a very sweet mother (who lives far away in another state) sent me a kind note to let me know my son Sam had just helped her son, another young recovering addict, through a lonely, tough time down in Florida. Sam reached out to her son, took him out for breakfast, and helped find him a good sponsor. The recovery community can be amazing that way – so many of them reach out to help one another. Anyway, I am very grateful to say my son Sam has now been drug free for just over four years, and he, along with the other dedicated staff at Amethyst Recovery, is helping addicts and families all over the country get the treatment they so desperately need.
How did Sam go from being a heroin addict just over four years ago to helping this young man and others like him? Some of my other blog articles tell more of my son’s story, but the part I want to talk about now is the importance of Sam’s year-long stay in sober living.
Sober living is an essential, I would say critical, phase of recovery for most addicts. But what is sober living anyway? Does it really help? And how do we help our addict son or daughter choose the right sober living facility after inpatient drug rehab? Before Sam became an addict I had no idea about the answers to these questions. So I thought it might be helpful to for parents who are just beginning this journey to provide a brief discussion about sober living, what it entails, some of the benefits, and how to find a solid, reputable sober living facility.
What is Sober Living?
After an addict completes the inpatient rehab phase of treatment, it is usually recommended that he or she transition to a sober living facility for some period of time, typically ranging from three months to a year. These facilities vary widely in terms of environment, range and severity of house rules, costs, and philosophy, but they generally have a few characteristics in common. First, all have (or should have) strictly enforced requirements that residents remain drug and alcohol-free during their stay, and almost all require some form of drug and alcohol testing on a regular basis. In addition, almost all sober living facilities have a set fee, and most require the resident to get a job in order to pay for his or her own stay. Also, assuming the facility is 12-step based, most require regular attendance at AA or NA meetings, and most have a nightly curfew. The majority of sober living facilities also require resident addicts to contribute to the household by doing chores and cleaning their own living spaces. There are also some sober living facilities that offer life skills training, continuing education, job assistance, and other such amenities.
Does Sober Living Really Help?
The advantages of sober living include a drug and alcohol free environment, peer support, structure, hopefully some professional counseling and guidance, and needed time to transition from inpatient rehab to living a drug-free life. And yes, sober living really is beneficial. I saw this first-hand with my son, and several studies have confirmed this conclusion. NIH did a study that found significant benefits for sober living residents in several important areas, including improved long-term sobriety, successful current and future employment, and reduction of adverse psychiatric symptoms.[i] In another study, researchers found that participants in a sober living home had significant improvements in mental health. The participants’ measurements of depression and anxiety were reduced, as were their scores on tests of personality disorders.[ii]
In terms of parents and families, sober living can be reassuring, at least it was for me. I knew Sam was not going directly from rehab out into the “real world,” and would have some additional time, help and guidance toward a hopefully successful recovery from addiction. Sam actually ended up in two separate sober living facilities, but the first one was not a good choice for a variety of reasons, including the fact that residents were not monitored closely, and some were using drugs while living there. Sam relapsed shortly after he left that place and went on to theft, jail, more detox, a suicide threat, another inpatient rehab, and finally an excellent sober living house, where he stayed for a year, and which provided him with many valuable lessons and tools to help him make a successful transition from rehab to living drug and alcohol free in the “real world”.
How do we find a good sober living facility?
As you can tell from Sam’s first experience, it can be difficult to find a reputable and safe sober living home, but it’s very important. These facilities are loosely regulated, at least in the state of Florida and most other states, and there are certainly many bad ones out there. So be proactive – do your research about sober living possibilities during your son or daughter’s inpatient rehab. The staff members at a reputable rehab, such as Amethyst, are truly the best place to start your sober living search. They typically can recommend several good sober living facilities with responsible owners and hands-on, accountable managers. Second, if possible, go visit any prospective sober living facility and talk to the owner, manager and residents. You can ask questions, get some sense of what life is like there, and determine whether it might be an appropriate place for your recovering son or daughter.
A final note
I will never forget Sam saying to me after a year-long stay at his second sober living facility, that the inpatient rehab, along with AA/NA , taught him how to be and stay sober. But it was Joe, the manager of that second sober living facility (who was actually very tough, but experienced, dedicated and kind), who “taught me how to be a man.” This morning I remembered Sam’s words as my happy tears spilled into my coffee, and thought to myself: yes, Sam really has learned how to be man, a man of courage, strength and honor, and a tireless drive to help other addicts in the same position he once was. Naturally I am an incredibly proud and grateful mother.
My thoughts and best wishes go out to every addict, and every parent and family member, as you each navigate this difficult, life-long journey of addiction and recovery. I pray you all are successful in your search for reputable inpatient rehab and sober living treatment.