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).
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Type of Treatment||Treatments Provided||Government||Severity of Addiction Treated|
|Social Approach||Level 1||Democratic; Peer accountability and oversight||Low to Moderate|
|Level 2||Peer-elected supervisor||Low to Moderate|
|Mix of Social & Clinical||Level 3||Staff Supervision||Moderate to Severe|
|Clinical Approach||Level 4||Staff Supervision||Severe|
The benefits to Sober Living Homes are numerous:
While there aren’t many drawbacks to attending a sober living home, there are a few things to consider before committing:
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).
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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).
|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||ccapprecoveryresidences.org|
|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||thegarrnetwork.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|
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.
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.
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