After a stay in an addiction treatment facility, many people in recovery aren’t sure what to do next. One of the best ways to continue and solidify the journey into recovery is by taking up residence in a sober living. Becoming part of a sober living community can be a crucial component in creating long term, lasting sobriety.

In a place like New York City, where temptation abounds and daily life itself can become overwhelming, it’s especially important to choose a sober living that will provide a healthy, safe home environment to come home to while you learn to navigate your newfound life in recovery. But with so many different types to choose from, it’s hard to know which type of sober living will be the most beneficial to your recovery. Luckily, there are key things that you can look for in any sober living in NYC that can act as a roadmap to choosing the right sober living for you.

On-site staff members

Almost every sober living has staff members that check in with residents on a regular basis, but the safest and most beneficial sober livings have staff on-site 24/7. These staff members are there to ensure the safety of all the residents by administering drug tests and breathalyzers, settling in-house disputes, holding residents accountable for their in-house behavior, making sure the house stays clean and resident chores get done, and most importantly, providing much-needed wisdom, guidance, support, and accountability when you need it most. Look for a sober living that has staff members on-site at all times.


Experienced case managers

Case managers are a crucial components of a quality sober living. A case manager’s job is to help residents stay on track and focused on their recovery. They provide guidance when it comes to things like managing health and wellness, arranging doctor’s appointments, managing mental healthcare, and helping residents find recovery fellowships like 12-step programs that are crucial to long term recovery. But the most important thing is that a case manager be experienced and trustworthy when it comes to knowledge of recovery and coping skills during early sobriety. Before taking up residence in a NYC sober living, ask to meet the case managers, and ask them about their own experiences in recovery and helping other people recover.


A defined ethics statement

When it comes to choosing the right NYC sober living, few things are more important than the ethics of the establishment. There are many ethical guidelines that any addiction recovery facility should abide by, but when it comes to sober livings, there are a few key ethical guidelines that make all the difference:

  • No paid referrals: It’s a common practice for a rehab or other recovery service to recommend clients to a reputable sober living. Ideally, these recommendations are based on the sober living’s reputation and quality of service. Unfortunately, some sober livings pay rehabs and other recovery facilities to refer residents to them. This may indicate that they see their residents as a potential revenue stream, rather than a person who simply needs a safe, healthy environment in which to learn to live sober.
  • No promises of a “permanent” cure: one of the most famous catchphrases of the recovery world is “one day at a time,” and for good reason. No alcoholic or addict is ever “permanently” cured. Recovery takes daily work and positive action. There is no magic cure-all. Any sober living that promises a permanent cure isn’t approaching recovery in a healthy, productive way.
  • No excessive and expensive drug tests or urinalysis: Most sober livings administer nightly breathalyzer and sobriety “spot checks,” but the most ethical sober livings only administer drug tests once or twice a week, and sometimes even fewer than that once a resident gains solid footing in their recovery. Sober livings that administer daily drug urinalysis tests are sometimes doing so in order to increase fees and boost their income.
  • No soliciting residents to leave online reviews: For most people in recovery, anonymity is a key component of their recovery. Whether it be for professional reasons, or to prevent judgement from those who simply don’t understand addiction, or just to maintain personal privacy, anonymity is one of the core principles of most recovery groups. Encouraging residents to leave public online reviews violates the concept of anonymity, and often indicates a sober living that is trying to use former residents to boost their online presence to bring in new clients. It should be each resident’s own personal choice to leave an online review for a sober living, but no sober living should ever ask their clients to share reviews. They should leave that choice up to the individual.


A peaceful, serene environment with quality amenities

Before taking up residence in a sober living, ask to see the facility. Is it clean? Are the facilities like the bathrooms and kitchens sanitary and up to date? Does the environment feel chaotic or unmanaged? Is the furniture rundown or worn? All of these are warning signs that that sober living may not be a great place to come home, relax, unwind, and escape the rigors of daily sober life in New York City. Look for sober livings that are clean, modern, and have a feeling of peace and serenity that’s conducive to a healthy long term sobriety. After all, the whole point of a sober living is to give its residents a safe, healthy place to call home while they explore their newfound sobriety. A sober living should be a place you want to come home to, not a place that causes additional stress and anxiety.


Healthy and safe house rules

The most important thing about a sober living is that it be a safe, healthy environment for all its residents. Sober livings that have late or no curfews, or are without a defined set of house rules can be a dangerous place for people struggling at the edge of relapse. In early recovery, it’s important to develop healthy habits and routines, and these habits and routines are often helped along by a defined set of house rules. When looking at a sober living, ask about the house rules. Is it mandatory to be out of bed by a certain time each morning? What time is the curfew? What is the policy about having visitors or guests? What time is the nightly curfew? Are there any rules regarding language or the way residents are allowed to talk to each other? Is it required that residents attend some sort of recovery fellowship meeting a certain number of times per week? While these rules may seem condescending or tiresome at times, they are crucial to maintain the safety of the house, and the best sober living is a safe sober living with a defined set of house rules.


An environment that encourages community and togetherness

One of the natural laws of recovery is that no one can do it alone. We all need a little help sometimes, and the best place to get help is from fellow addicts and alcoholics. The best sober livings encourage housemates to connect and bond with each other in order to share their triumphs and warn against their own past stumbling blocks. Look for sober livings that have in-house recovery meetings, community activities, communal meals, shared responsibilities, and above all, a feeling that the residents are part of a community. When interviewing at a potential sober living, ask if they host or encourage in-house meetings as a way for residents to bond and build lasting friendships. Along with in-house meetings and support groups, many sober livings host or encourage activities like game nights, movie nights, group outings to recovery meetings, arts and crafts, holistic activities like yoga or stretching exercises, and other activities to bring residents closer together and show them that sobriety can be fun.

The bottom line is, the whole point of a sober living is to give its residents a safe, nurturing, encouraging environment that promotes accountability, responsibility, and a desire to achieve long-term, healthy sobriety. If you’re looking into a sober living and it makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, find another one. Early sobriety is hard. Make it easier by choosing a sober living that is clean, serene, therapeutic, and safe.


— Bryan Swift for Avenues NYC, 2018