I. The History of Sober Living Homes

Sober living houses have existed since the mid-1800’s, but they have gone through many changes. The movement started with homes associated with the Washingtonian Temperance Society in Boston in the 1800’s, and in the 1900’s, homes associated with Alcoholics Anonymous became popular (Twelfth Step Houses).

Halfway Houses were started to facilitate re-entry into society

In the 1950’s, “Halfway houses” (often funded by the government) were founded due to concerns about sustaining personal recovery after treatment. Today halfway houses are still used as a way to foster re-entry into society for addicts and sometimes for prison inmates.

The Minnesota Model was designed using principles of Alcoholic Anonymous

The Minnesota Model was also developed during the 1950’s and formed the basis of the social model for recovery, which is foundational to modern-day sober living homes. The program used many of the same principles as Alcoholics Anonymous and soon became increasingly professionalized. This model influenced different versions of residential inpatient facilities that can be found today.

Oxford Houses were formed to be an affordable, peer-supported recovery residences

The first Oxford House was opened in 1975 in Maryland when the founder’s halfway house closed due to funding cuts. Since then, homes operating under the Oxford House model have spread across the country – as of 2012, there were 1,500 homes.

The Oxford House model uses a democratically run governance system, along with rules requiring abstinence and participation in recovery activities (such as AA or NA), among others. The model was meant to be more affordable, as all the residents share the cost of the rent and utilities and pay a very small fee to maintain membership in the Oxford House network.

Other regional networks of sober living homes were formed

Other networks of sober living homes similar to the Oxford House model were started to facilitate self-supported and self-governed residences. One such example is the Sober Living Network that was started in 1995 and currently represents 550 homes in Southern California.

The NARR was founded to unify and provide standards for regional networks

Due to the variance in approaches of independent homes and regional networks and a general lack of national coordination, thought leaders convened in 2010 to formulate unified standards centered around best practices. As a result of that conference, the National Alliance for Recovery Residences (NARR) was founded in 2011 to “promote a recovery-oriented continuum of support for those with substance use disorders by credentialing recovery residences that implement empirically based recovery principles and practice standards.”

The NARR created standardized language and definitions that are used to identify the different types of sober living homes based on the level of services and structure that they provide. The NARR refers to all such homes as “recovery residences,” which is the nomenclature we will use throughout this guide. The NARR functions by certifying regional networks (referred to as “affiliates”) which then certify individual residences.

II. The Basics of Sober Living Homes

How Sober Living Homes Fit into the Rehabilitation Process

Sober living centers are usually considered to be a form of aftercare – the phase of treatment that is focused on maintaining sobriety. For an overview of the rehabilitation process, see below or read our guide on the subject.

Levels of Recovery Residences

Recovery Residences (RRs) are organized into four categories, or “levels,” by the NARR. The levels describe the intensiveness of the program and the level of care provided. Level 1 houses provide almost no recovery-orientated structure (other than requiring residents to attend mutual support groups or the like), while Level 4 houses are considered “Therapeutic Communities” and share much in common with residential inpatient treatment. In-house therapy and sometimes even medical services are provided. While there are fundamental differences between the levels (discussed below), their basic purpose is all the same – to provide a substance-free environment where people can continue their recovery while relying on support from their peers. Additionally, they share the following features in common.

  • Peer Support: Forming relationships with others who are in the process of recovery can provide encouragement and inspiration – especially from those who are further along in the process.
  • Drug-Free Environments: Many patients who have been through treatment have no other option but to return to living environments where drug or alcohol use is either present or readily available. RRs provide a place to live where drugs and alcohol are neither present nor allowed.
  • Full-Time Residential: All levels of RRs require residents to stay there full time. While some may allow a day or two away occasionally, most require a 100% commitment to living at the home. Most homes have two or more beds per room, and all living spaces are shared.
  • Shared Cost: The basic principle of RRs is that each resident pays a portion of the rent and utilities, as well as other expenses. While most RRs are self-sustaining, some houses do receive federal or state funding to offset the cost, especially level 3 or 4 houses. Many RRs require the residents to work, or at least be actively looking for work.
  • House Rules: Each RR has it’s own house rules about who can move in and what’s required of residents. Common rules include regular chores, random drug and alcohol tests, and strict rules regarding activities like stealing and sexual conduct. Many houses also require residents to regularly attend some sort of therapy, such as AA or NA meetings, 12-step alternatives, or counseling sessions.

Level 1 Recovery Residences include and closely resemble Oxford Houses

Level 1 houses provide the least amount of oversight and services. A good example of Level 1 houses is the Oxford House model. Oxford Houses are governed by a charter and rules that are agreed upon at the outset, but those are kept to a minimum and decisions are made democratically. For instance, house members vote on whether to allow a certain individual into the house. Each member has one vote, and no outside supervisor or manager is hired.

Many houses require residents to attend some sort of recovery, be it a 12-step program or outpatient counseling sessions. However, most Level 1 RRs don’t provide onsite recovery services, with the possible exception of an optional 12-step recovery meeting held weekly at the home.

The cost of a Level 1 home is simply the cost of rent, utilities, and other shared expenses divided by the number of residents. A small association fee is often required to maintain membership in the affiliate’s network.

Level 2 houses generally elect a supervisor, but don’t offer recovery services

The main difference between Level 2 homes and Level 1 homes is with the way that they are governed. Most often, a supervisor is elected, and he or she is responsible for ensuring that residents comply with the rules and works to resolve any community complaints.

While Level 2 homes don’t have recovery services onsite, there’s usually a strict requirement for maintaining membership in a recovery group or sticking to an aftercare plan with a counselor. Additionally, strict sobriety test requirements are typically enforced. This differs from Level 1 homes which tend to have more relaxed policies on how often drug or alcohol tests are required.

Aside from each resident’s portion of rent, utilities, and shared expenses, a small fee may be required for network membership and for the services of a supervisor and drug testing, which usually make them slightly more expensive than equivalent Level 1 houses.

Level 3 homes offer professional management and some recovery services

While Level 3 houses are still considered “sober living homes,” they do incorporate aspects of clinical treatment. Their primary purpose is still to provide a substance-free environment for people to live in, but the programs are more structured than Level 2 homes. They often include paid counselors and staff to assist patients in developing and following through with their aftercare plans. Most of the actual treatment doesn’t happen on site, but certain life skills and support groups may be provided at the house.

Most Level 3 houses are overseen by paid staff, rather than self-governing like Level 1 and 2 homes. As a result, the cost of Level 3 homes often includes the expense of paying counselors and administrative staff, in addition to the shared expenses of living in the home.

Level 4 houses are considered residential inpatient rehabilitation facilities

While Level 4 homes are included in “recovery residences” they wouldn’t typically be considered “sober living homes” since they fall into the category of inpatient treatment, rather than aftercare. They are most often referred to as Therapeutic Communities (TCs). TCs are a structured, clinical environment and are usually full-service, meaning that residents don’t have to go offsite for treatment.

Residents in Level 4 homes are usually not able to work (at least not full-time) since they are engaged in recovery activities throughout the day. Often residents are not allowed to come and go as they choose.

The Four Levels of Recovery Residences
Type of Treatment Treatments Provided Government Severity of Addiction Treated
Social Approach Level 1
  • Self-help, peer-support groups
  • Self-scheduled third-party treatment
Democratic; Peer accountability and oversight Low to Moderate
Level 2
  • Self-help, peer-support groups
  • Self-scheduled third-party treatment
Peer-elected supervisor Low to Moderate
Mix of Social & Clinical Level 3
  • Semi-structured treatment plans
  • Self-help (often guided by support personnel)
  • Peer-support groups (often held on-sight throughout the day)
  • Self- or counselor-scheduled third-party treatment
Staff Supervision Moderate to Severe
Clinical Approach Level 4
  • Structured treatment plans
  • Onsite counseling
  • Onsite peer-support groups
Staff Supervision Severe

III. Benefits and Drawbacks of Sober Living Homes

Benefits

The benefits to Sober Living Homes are numerous:

  • They are affordable: When compared to the cost of renting a home or apartment on your own or with a single roommate, the cost of living in a Recovery Residence (RR) is very affordable, especially for Level 1 and Level 2 homes. For example, a 2012 cost-benefit analysis study of 129 individuals found that those who enrolled in an Oxford House, a type of sober living home, had an average net financial gain of $29,000 per person over those who chose not to enter a sober living home.
  • They are effective: A study by DePaul University comparing two groups of people who completed residential treatment found that the group who enrolled in an Oxford House had significantly lower substance abuse rates two years later than those who chose not to enter a sober living home (31.3% vs. 64.8%). Additionally, those who didn’t enroll in an Oxford house were incarcerated at three times the rate of those who did.
  • They offer diverse options: While not everyone will have a lot of options for sober living homes in their city, those willing to relocate can find RRs that serve all types of people. For example, there are houses that accept families with children and houses specifically for Veterans or LGBTQ. Additionally, the four levels of RRs mean that even those with very severe addictions can find a home that will fit their needs.
  • They have a supportive environment: One of the reasons that RRs are so effective is that they provide an encouraging and supportive home and an opportunity to build positive relationships with those who understand the struggle of overcoming addiction. For many people, the alternative is to return to a home where drug use is prevalent or accessible, and where stress and temptations are pervasive.

Drawbacks

While there aren’t many drawbacks to attending a sober living home, there are a few things to consider before committing:

  • Privacy: Most sober living homes allow almost no privacy. In fact, many homes don’t allow residents to lock the door to their own room, and bedrooms are most often shared by 2-3 residents.
  • Strict Rules: To keep the peace and promote a positive, recovery-oriented environment, many homes have strict rules that may be difficult to accept for those used to living on their own and doing whatever they want. Possible rules include completing of certain chores, disallowing sexual contact between residents, and strict requirements regarding cleanliness.
  • Complete Sobriety: In recovery residences, there’s no middle-ground – complete abstinence is required. This could be a drawback for some individuals recovering from an addiction to hard drugs (such as meth or heroin) who might want to deal with their cravings by using substances like marijuana or alcohol. Most homes require residents to submit to random or regular drug tests, and they have a zero-tolerance policy – those who fail the tests are usually asked to leave immediately.

IV. Is a Sober Living Home Right for You?

Overall, sober living homes are a great choice for anyone who is serious about overcoming addiction – the more struggles you’ve had getting and staying clean, the more you may benefit from a Recovery Residence (RR).

The following types of individuals should seriously consider a sober living home:

  • Those who don’t have a supportive, substance-free environment in which to live
  • Those who have relapsed after rehabilitation in the past
  • Those who have abused substances for a long time and are highly dependent
  • Those who have co-occurring mental health problems
  • Those who lack positive relationships with friends or family who don’t use substances

Who’s Not Eligible

While there’s a level of support that’s right for almost everyone, sober living homes aren’t appropriate for everyone. If you are considering a sober living home, you must:

  • Be in recovery. Recovery homes are designed for those who have a substance abuse problem, not people just looking for a cheap place to live.
  • Be willing and able to uphold the rules and recovery culture of recovery residences.
  • Not have needs that are beyond the scope of the home in question. For instance, those who have severe health problems relating to withdrawal or severe mental health problems may need to seek residential treatment instead.
  • Not pose a threat to themselves, others, or the property.
  • Not be engaged in criminal activity.

How to Decide on a Level of Service

Note: Since Level 4 homes aren’t considered sober living homes, only the first three levels of recovery residences will be discussed below. For information about Level 4 homes (Therapeutic Communities) read our guide on Long-Term Rehab Programs.

Level 1 is best for those who simply need support

For those with slight to moderate addiction, sometimes just getting out of their negative environment is enough to help them along in recovery. Oxford Houses have been shown to be effective, and tend to be one of the cheapest options since residents are just sharing the cost of living. Level 1 houses are best for those who:

  • Have a low level of addiction (a professional assessment can help you determine what level of addiction you have)
  • Are self-motivated towards recovery
  • Don’t need extra services or special care (such as help scheduling third-party treatment)
  • Don’t have a large budget

Level 2 is best for those who need mutual support with a small amount of supervision

Since most Level 2 homes require regular sobriety tests and have a peer-elected supervisor, they do provide a small amount of supervision, but the main benefit is still the mutual support of others who are in recovery. Level 2 houses are best for those who:

  • Have a low to moderate level of addiction (a professional assessment can help you determine what level of addiction you have)
  • Are self-motivated towards recovery, but can benefit from a low-level of supervision
  • Don’t need extra services or special care (such as help scheduling third-party treatment)
  • Don’t have a large budget

Level 3 is best for those who need a moderate degree of supervision and some structure

Level 3 houses typically provide staff supervision, so those who don’t want to be entirely responsible for their recovery process may find this type of RR to be a good middle ground between residential treatment and traditional sober living homes. Level 3 houses are best for those who:

  • Have a moderate to severe level of addiction (a professional assessment can help you determine what level of addiction you have)
  • Need regular help staying on track with their recovery plans
  • Need some daily recovery-orientated structure
  • Need assistance with learning life skills (such as help finding a job)
  • Have special needs such as co-occurring mental health problems or disabilities
  • Can afford to pay a higher monthly price (insurance and other funding may be available)

V. How to Find a Sober Living Home

Most of the sober living homes recognized by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) are government-funded halfway houses, so those looking for recovery residences as described in this guide won’t be able to effectively use our database tool (which lists all the SAMHSA-recognized facilities). Instead, you can contact the third-party networks listed below.

Note: Not all of the networks organize houses into four levels of care (as we discussed above), so you may need to contact individual residences to determine what level of care they provide. Other than Oxford House (which has its own certification process) all of the following organizations are certified affiliates of the National Alliance of Recovery Residences (NARR).

Sober Living Home Directory
State Description Phone Website
All Oxford House has a directory of homes and lists vacancies in almost every state. Oxford houses are exclusively level 1 homes. N/A oxfordhouse.org
California The Sober Living Network certifies over 500 homes in Southern California, and most fall into the Level 2 category. (310) 701-8408 soberhousing.net
The California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals certifies over 230 homes all over California. (916) 338-9460 ccapp.us
Connecticut The Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery certifies three recovery residences in the state. (860) 244-2227 ccar.us
Florida The Florida Association of Recovery Residences organizes its 280+ residences into the four levels we discussed in this guide. (561) 288-1721 farronline.org
Georgia The Georgia Association of Recovery Residences is a founding member of NARR and certifies over 50 homes in the state of Georgia. (770) 756-6212 garrnow.org
Illinois (Chicago) Illinois Association of Extended Care certifies 21 homes in Illinois, primarily in the Chicago area. (630) 891-9505 iaec-inc.org
Indiana The Indiana Affiliation of Recovery Residences certifies 76 homes in the state. (317) 638-3501 inarr.org
Maine The Maine Association of Recovery Residences certifies five homes in the state. N/A mainerecoveryresidences.com
Massachusetts The Massachusetts Alliance for Sober Housing certifies 162 homes in the state. (781) 472-2624 mashsoberhousing.org
Michigan The Michigan Association of Recovery Residences certifies 15 homes in the state. (616) 795-9969 michiganarr.com
Minnesota The Minnesota Association of Sober Homes certifies 39 homes in the state. (651) 248-1996 mnsoberhomes.org
New Jersey The New Jersey Alliance of Recovery Residences homes in the state (the number is currently unknown). (609) 432-2130 njarr.org
North Carolina Recovery Residences of the Carolinas certifies eight homes in North Carolina, and it organizes each into one of the four levels identified in this guide. (704) 617-0681 recoveryncsc.com
Ohio Ohio Recovery Housing currently certifies 55 houses and has a searchable database with a filter for the four levels of Recovery Residences. (614) 228-0747 ohiorecoveryhousing.org
Pennsylvania The Pennsylvania Association of Recovery Residences is a founding member of NARR and organizes its 79 member houses into the four levels discussed in this guide. (267) 388-8546 parronline.org
Rhode Island The Ocean State Coalition of Recovery Homes currently certifies five homes in Rhode Island. (401) 440-0965 recoveryhousingri.com
South Carolina Recovery Residences of the Carolinas certifies four homes in South Carolina (all in Greenville). It organizes each home into one of the four levels identified in this guide. (704) 617-0681 recoveryncsc.com
Tennessee The Tennessee Alliance of Recovery Residences certifies 11 homes in the state. (615) 383-2755 tnarr.org
Texas The Texas Recovery Oriented Housing Network currently certifies 13 houses in the state. The houses are identified by the four levels we discussed in this guide. (512) 981-5372 trohn.org
Virginia The Virginia Association of Recovery Residences certifies five homes in the state. It does identify which level each house falls into. (804) 687-3619 varronline.org

What to Look for in a Quality Sober Living Home

Since most states don’t regulate sober living homes like they do with treatment facilities, it’s important to do your research. The following are a few recommendations when looking for a sober living home for you or a loved one.

  • Certification by the NARR: We recommend homes that are a part of a regional network that has been certified by the National Association of Recovery Residences (NARR) (listed above). You can find the document listing the NARR’s standards here.
  • Certification by Oxford House: Oxford houses are also a good choice for those who are looking for a Level 1 home since they have well-established traditions and have been shown to be successful. Keep in mind that many rules are left up to the individual homes themselves, so one Oxford House may look much different than another.
  • Certification by a regional association (not affiliated with the NARR): If you are unable to find a home in your area that’s affiliated with the NARR or need a Level 2 or Level 3 home, there may be a regional association that certifies homes in your area. These regional associations are a great way to ensure accountability to a common standard, and they often provide an appeal process for any abuses or issues that occur.
  • Clear rules and guidelines given at the time of application: The more clearly defined the house rules are, the better chance that the home will function smoothly and provide the best chance for you or a loved to recover.
  • A well-established home with a good reputation: If you don’t have the opportunity to apply to a home that is certified by a third-party, try to find a home that’s been around for a longer period of time (5+ years). A counselor or treatment facility may be able to recommend a sober living home that they have worked with in the past.

VI. Take Action

Sober living homes make the difference for many people between ongoing addiction and freedom from substance abuse. Because many homes are independent and not currently affiliated with the National Association of Recovery Residences (or other regional association), finding a home with vacancies is not always a straightforward process. However, you can use the table above to get started, and then continue with your own research to find a recovery residence that meets your needs.