In the world of addiction recovery modalities, transitional living is an all-encompassing, umbrella term for stable, alcohol and drug-free living facilities that can range from sober livings to halfway houses. These spaces might make sense for recovering individuals after they leave an addiction treatment facility (like detox or rehab), especially if they are uncertain about independent living. Forty to sixty percent of people treated for substance use disorders relapse, according to The National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) . This statistic alone, though not surprising, is high. One should take care after leaving treatment to ensure that they have a supportive environment in place, reducing as many internal and external triggers as possible.
Transitional living can be a beautiful bridge to long-term sobriety, lessening the chances of interacting with triggering people, places, and things, as well as softening the edges of what may be a precarious adjustment otherwise. Recovering individuals receive structure, support (from both professionals and peers), and accountability, as well as the freedom to leave the grounds with safe parameters in place. This article will explore different kinds of transitional living, as well as what to look for when considering your options.
What’s In A Name: Halfway Houses and Sober Livings
While some may use the terms halfway house and sober livings interchangeably, there are marked differences between the two. Halfway houses initially started up in 18th century England to house children who engaged in criminal activity, and similar houses opened in the United States soon after to provide a space for those recently released from prison .
Most halfway houses are state-funded and require that residents have either completed, or are currently in, a rehabilitation treatment program, whereas sober livings do not. Certain halfway houses are aimed at housing recently-released inmates from jail or prison who have completed treatment, whereas others are open to anyone with a substance use disorder who need extra support during or after treatment. Many can be crowded and have the feel of a dorm, whereas sober livings can offer more privacy and comfort.
Halfway houses generally have greater rules and restrictions than sober livings houses, such as limitations on length of stay (those court-mandated can stay, at most, for 12 months or another predetermined amount of time), as well as subjectivity to funding from the government, which can leave halfway houses in a precarious situation if there funding cuts.
The beginnings of sober livings go back to the 1830s, when religious organizations opened up “dry” hotels, where residents were required to abstain from alcohol. Of course, sober livings have evolved over time.
Sober livings are privately-owned, operated, and offer greater amenities than halfway houses. Residents of sober livings have greater freedom than those in halfway houses and individuals are responsible for payment since insurance companies do not consider sober livings to be a medical service. Monthly costs can vary from place to place depending on location and amenities. Certain sober livings offer financial assistance, so be sure to look into this option if it applies to you.
Like halfway houses, sober livings require that residents stay abstinent from alcohol and drugs, as well as adhere to the house’s rules and regulations, such as paying rent and other dues, completing house chores, and attending in-house meetings. Many have on-site treatment professionals like doctors, psychiatrists, addiction therapists, recovery coaches, but not all of them do. Note what you need, but also note if you’re not sure what you need, and be sure to discuss this uncertainty with the staff you meet with when you visit.
Certain higher-end sober livings offer luxury accommodations, access to gyms, private balconies, meals prepared by chefs, massage therapists, acupuncturists, and other amenities that the average sober living may not offer. Be realistic about what it is you need and whether cushier accommodations may hurt or help your recovery. For some, luxury accommodations may encourage them to stay indoors and not “do much,” whereas others may need these amenities in order to be able to feel comfortable and secure enough to proceed with their recovery. Respect your comfort level and take the option that best applies to you.
What To Look For In Transitional Living
It’s important to acknowledge one’s physical, financial, as well as emotional needs and whether they can be fulfilled when looking at transitional living options. If you’re not aware of your needs, that’s normal as well–a large part of recovery is learning to reclaim your needs and expressing the. Sometimes it takes a stay at a facility that isn’t compatible to realize and define what one truly does need from their living situation. Here are a few categories to consider when looking. It’s advisable to enlist the help of a supportive friend or mentor, so you have observations to bounce off of, and most importantly, as a reminder that you no longer have to do things alone anymore.
First Things First
What can you afford to pay for your stay at a transitional living facility? Some halfway houses and sober livings accept insurance, whereas others are out-of-pocket and require individuals to pay the full premium of staying there. Do you research: ask other individuals in recovery, ask previous staff and counselors at addiction treatment centers (if applicable), and don’t be afraid to call a center up and ask directly.
Our physical environment, down to the layout and aesthetics, can play a large role in how emotionally safe we feel about staying there. Make sure to visit the facilities and see if you can meet with someone there who can answer your questions and concerns. If an accommodation-related issues come up, who can you go to? Some points to consider: Is the facility co-ed or single-gender? For a certain age demographic (teens/young adults, for example)? To what extent can you have access to the shared spaces and at what times throughout the day? What are the shared spaces like the bathroom and kitchen like, as well as the rooms? Are they sanitary and up-to-date or rundown? The space should feel serene and calm, not match the chaos and disarray of New York City.
What does the staff look like and how many staff members will you be engaging with during your stay? Is there someone on-site 24/7 in the case of an emergency? Is there a house manager and what are the case managers like? Is it important to you that your case manager also be in recovery or is that irrelevant? Case managers should be able to help with a plethora of things like handling mental and wellness, helping find meetings or arranging doctor’s appointments as needed, as well as providing emotional support as needed whilst upholding professional boundaries. Ask if you can meet with a case manager to see the facility through their eyes and how they can be of support to you.
The safety of residents should be ensured through regular drug tests and breathalyzers, attending to any in-house issues (whether between residents and/or staff, and making sure that everyone does their part to keep the shared spaces clean, safe, and supportive.
Are there regular house meetings amongst residents to ensure the feeling of a community and that everyone is on a similar page in terms of mutual respect and support? Who leads these meetings and what do they look like?
What are the curfews and guidelines regarding conduct within and outside of the premises? Rather than viewing these as punitive or restricting, try to be open to seeing these guidelines as building blocks for establishing healthy habits and routines in early sobriety.
To what extent will you have a personalized treatment plan, or is there a general plan for everyone enrolled there? Everyone has different needs and a catch-all approach to treatment may not work for you. Be sure to ask questions and don’t be afraid of asking what you think may be basic. Part of recovery to learning to advocate for yourself, and asking these questions is good practice in rebuilding trust with yourself–a practice that may have weakened within the trenches of years of substance misuse.
In the spirit of self-honesty, ask yourself what sort of structure you need. What will there be to do during the day? Try to look for a place that has options and programming in place for days where you need structure but also offers the option to navigate your days freely if needed.
Individuals who struggle with substance abuse, in addition to mental health disorders such an anxiety/depression or eating disorders, can be diagnosed as having co-occurring disorders, or dual disorders. This is not an uncommon phenomenon for those recovering from substance use disorder. One question to ask is: Does the facility offer support for these additional disorders, and if so, what would that support look like? To what extent would one’s support be geared towards the other disorder? If not at all, is the individual OK to focus on their substance abuse recovery first and hold off on recovery regarding the other disorder(s)? Oftentimes dual disorders can feed into one another and it may be challenging to discern which to address first, but sometimes putting alcohol and drugs first can provide the sort of clarity that nudges one to address the other underlying issues.
Are there 12-Step meetings within the facilities, or are there accessible 12-Step meetings nearby? Is 12-Step recovery, in fact, the modality of recovery that you’re interested in or will you have the option to explore other paths such as SMART Recovery or sobriety informed by individual counseling and group sessions? The 12-Step model does not work for everyone and it’s important to be honest about any qualms or issues with this path of recovery and know that it is not the only way to get and stay sober.
It’s crucial to review an establishment’s ethical guidelines to see the principles by which they stand, as well as scoping the facility out on your own. There has been a fair share of horror stories circling sober livings and halfway houses regarding irresponsible rules and practices, so please be thorough when doing your research and take caution when visiting the facility and meeting with staff (don’t ignore your intuition if something strikes you as odd or if an undefinable feeling comes up). Some points to consider:
- Is there a zero tolerance policy for drug and alcohol use? What happens when a resident uses? Keeping a resident after they have relapsed can negatively influence others at the facility and breed toxicity, especially if the relapse is kept a secret. Yet there needs to also be a healthy balance of maintaining the resident’s privacy. Be sure to look into this policy, as a zero tolerance policy is key.
- Does the facility rely on paid referrals from treatment centers? Be aware that this can happen, which shows that the facility may prioritize revenue over the well-being of a patient. If a facility were genuinely supportive and helpful to its clients, consider that it may not need to do the outreach that it feels it may have to do. If upon discharge residents feel like leaving a review for the facility, that should be their decision, not one informed by persuasion from the facility.
- Be wary of multiple drug tests/breathalyzers conducted throughout the week. Although regular and random tests are essential, sometimes, excessive testing can indicate a need on the facility’s end to increase fees and boost income.
- Should you decide to leave the facility due to unresolvable issues or feelings of unsafety, is there a refund policy in place? How would that situation be handled?
When considering long-term sobriety, jumping into a living situation where one does not have support or guidance can easily derail recovery. While for some attending 12-Step meetings and outpatient treatment may be enough, for others, the safety of living in a halfway house or sober living can ensure a smoother path to sobriety, taking care of potential triggers that may pop up if living on one’s own or with unsupportive friends, acquaintances, or family. Remember: you’re entitled to all the help you ask and having your physical, emotional, and financial needs met. You are most definitely worth it on this path of recovery, an invaluable endeavor that will transform your life in beautiful ways you would not have imagined.
– Marina R. for Avenues NYC