Sober Living is More Important than You Think

Updated on August 24, 2012

By Dr. Elizabeth Waterman

Professionals in the field of chemical dependency, or anyone with personal experience with recovery from substance abuse, understand that recovery is a process that continues long after graduation from an intensive treatment program.  One of the most important factors in maintaining sobriety post-treatment is the type of living environment the person will be entering, or in some cases re-entering.  Research has shown that a sober living environment is more conducive to sustained sobriety versus an environment in which active substance use is present.

Sober living houses are designed to provide moderate structure and support for individuals in recovery within a substance free living environment.  Sober living houses typically emphasize the social model of recovery (i.e.  12-Step organizations) and often have a house parent or manager who monitors and supports the residents.  This type of environment does not provide clinical treatment, but they do typically require that all residents comply with regular drug testing, a curfew, chores, and involvement with the 12-Steps.  It is shown that sober living homes are a helpful option for living following treatment especially, if a person’s original home environment is chaotic, unstable, and/or promotes substance use.

In a study by Polcin and colleagues (2010) conducted an 18-month study that examined substance abuse and global functioning outcomes for residents living in sober living homes.  Researchers followed 245 residents with alcohol and/or drug abuse problems who were enrolled in the Clean and Sober Transitional Living program in California.  The residents were assessed for severity of substance abuse, legal problems, psychiatric problems, employment, and family problems at baseline, 6-months, 12, and 18-months.  The results showed that subjects in the sober living environment made significant improvements in substance abuse problems, with 42% of subjects reporting abstinence from drugs or alcohol at 18 months, compared to 19% of subjects who reported being abstinent at the start of the study.  The results showed improvements for subjects in the areas of employment and psychiatric problems from baseline to 6-month follow-up, and these positive results were maintained at the 18-month follow-up.Furthermore, the findings showed that subjects who reported having social networks with lower substance use and higher 12-step involvement predicted positive outcomes on all measures in the study.  Based on their prior research on sober living houses, Polcin et al. suggest that abstinence from substance use and retention of individuals in a sober living house can be improved if residents attend an outpatient treatment program during their stay.

While many treatment centers only offering 30-day programs or less, the patient’s therapist or counselor plays a major role in helping to create a discharge plan that includes selecting the most appropriate living environment for them at the time. In another study by Polcin et al. (2012) published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, the authors examined the perception of sober living houses in the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction among mental health professionals.  Forty-nine therapists and 85 drug and alcohol counselors were interviewed to assess their views of the role of sober living houses in terms of chemical dependency treatment.  The results showed that a majority of the chemical dependency professionals interviewed expressed strong support for sober living houses, however, most also reported that negative social stigma was a barrier to connecting addicts with these supportive environments.

The transition from primary care to the real world can be one filled with obstacles and pitfalls. Sober living creates that safe guard that allows recovering addicts to find their purpose in life again and create fellowship within the home. It takes time, patience, and discipline to live a life of sobriety- that’s why sober livings are a great option to continue down the road of successful recovery.


Polcin, D.L., Korcha, R.A., Bond, J., & Galloway, G.P. (2010). What did we learn from our study on sober living houses and where do we go from here?  Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 42, 425-433.

Polcin, D.L., Henderson, D.M., Korcha, R., Evans, K, Wittman, F., &Trocki, K.  (2012). Perceptions of sober living houses among addiction counselors and mental health therapists:  Knowledge, views and perceived barriers.  Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 44(3), 224-236.

Dr. Elizabeth Waterman, Psy.D at Morningside Recovery Centers: Elizabeth began her work in the recovery field in 2008 and has held positions as a clinician in residential treatment centers, mental health clinics, and private practice.  She has extensive experience in conducting psychological evaluations and disability determination evaluations for children, adolescents, and adults.    Her areas of professional specialties include addiction, personality disorders, and mood and anxiety disorders.  She enjoys working with clients from a variety of evidenced-based treatment approaches and is currently in the process of completing an intensive training program in Dialectical Behavior Therapy.  Elizabeth is dedicated to providing superior therapeutic services to clients and their families, as well as educating the public about mental illness and chemical dependency. 

Elizabeth graduated from California State University, Fullerton with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology.  She received her doctorate in clinical psychology (Psy.D.) from the American School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University, Orange County and is currently a licensed Psychologist in the state of California.

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