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In a Sober House and Struggling

New Beginnings—Sign

Mothra wrote in to inform us of the latest with her son, struggling in the sober house setting…

Hello AIR – well, we are at a crossroads I feel with our son who has been in a sober house for over two months. After a job loss and another job not won, there seems to be an unraveling going on. Now he says there's problems at the sober house with one of the residents, and he seems to be overly involved suddenly. Contradictions abound and we can't tell if he's being truthful, but my gut says he's not. I fear he has started using or is ready to.

We are grateful that he has gotten this far and hope that what he experienced during this time will make an impact on him. Pressures with the courts are lurking too, though he was given a break with one hearing due to being at the sober house. However the big one is coming up within the next few weeks. Another reason to run.

We are seeing him tomorrow and I will know.

we will try very hard to use CRAFT when engaging with him in hopes we can continue to steer him towards recovery. This period of new found clarity in some areas – not all – has always been a dangerous time. He never pursued any counseling or an IOP , not even an MD visit though he had the time, just meetings, but not daily. No sponsor….I'd like to make our continued help with the rent contingent on some sort of counseling if he's not using, or detox if he is. Or let the consequences happen. What are your thoughts?

Thanks, Mothra

This early period of recovery is fragile, as you say even dangerous. As important as it is to remove the drugs, it is even more important to add things in that take the place of the drugs and that provide meaning, guidance, and that support recovery and health…a job, volunteer work, exercise, self-help, a recovery coach, a therapeutic group.

You’ve been aware of this and have been trying to interest your son in these healthy strategies. It is an uphill battle. I do think that continued rent payment of the sober house can be made contingent on following a treatment plan. The self-help is important but is not proving to be enough if your suspicions are correct.

Sober houses play an important role in early recovery but they can be uneven and too dependent on the people staying in them. Good management and governance are key. One studied approach is called the Social Model. Not that you can do much about the model in place at your son’s house, but readers may like to read about how some sober houses govern themselves…

Learning how to be in a relationship of any kind is important to a continued and sane recovery. Many of us have never learned how to navigate relationships. We get tangled up, upset, and resentful. It can turn into an obsession, and is especially hard if we’re living with that person. Perhaps you focus on this skill and suggest to your son that managing this problematic relationship is important to his sobriety. A process group or therapist can help with this. Being in relationships is a life-long need. Learning about them is going to be important to a continued sobriety.

Your son was recently forgiven an offense by the courts because he is in a sober house. Let’s hope this left a mark on him. He is going to need that sober house and his continued sobriety as evidence of the effort he is making in the next hearing coming up.

Again, you know this. It is another leverage point for trying to influence your son to stay put. If I were to pick one treatment that your son would need to agree to in exchange for rent payments continuing, it would be an early recovery group, men only if possible. You would ask for a consent form to be signed by him to let you know he is attending. Stress that you are not interested in what is said.

Does the sober house drug test? The house should be following your son and helping with the issues that come up.

Your son may be wavering but it doesn’t necessarily mean a full-out relapse. He has two important pieces in place: a safe home and self-help. The house should be prepared to address a potential relapse or the beginning of one. The house should also be helping with the interpersonal issues that come up between residents.

Your influence is limited. You know your son best. It is hard to stand by and let things unravel, yet your reach is limited. It is worth trying to use your leverage to get him to address relationships through a therapeutic group. The need to be in treatment and in sober housing is very important for the court.

This early period in recovery is difficult. Wavering is not unusual. It doesn’t mean he is giving up, just ambiguous. This is normal. I hope this site is able to help you differentiate between what you can do, and what you need to let your son be responsible for. Thank you for letting us know what is going on with him. Your difficulties are similar to others' on this site.



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. Dominique,
    Thank you so much for your clarifying thoughts on enabling as a continuum from progressing in recovery to tending toward use. I have often run into the attitude that all enabling is bad. My son was in a sober house for 7 months and we paid the rent while he received vocational training & worked a couple days a week. He was also working the 12 steps, in counseling, attending meetings daily and an early recovery group so we were ok with supporting him. When he was ready to move out & work at a job in his new vocation, we allowed him to move back home with a strick contract which we jointly developed to continue the behaviors that support recovery. He’s doing well. I have been criticized by someone in the recovery field for enabling him by letting him move home and was told he should be on his own to figure it out for himself. He is 21 years old and I don’t know anyone that age that is totally on their own, substance use issues or not. It’s hard to know if I am finding the right balance in supporting his recovery. I try to be kind to myself in my efforts, knowing I’ll probably not get it all right, but we are all learning as we go and doing the best we can. The support and feedback you offer on this site has been so helpful on this journey.

  2. My son is also in sober living. He Entered after a 45 day treatment program. He likes the house and says it’s good because everyone here WANTS to be sober. ( his second rehab and sober living experience). He was in an IOP but was discharged, not for relapse but for getting together with girls from the program in a jacuzzi: not acceptable. He has remained sober, attending meetings and has a sponsor. He works out obsessively ( was a personal trainer). He has not worked as hard finding a job as we would like. He says he’s been offered a position at a sporting goods store but is waiting for the background check to clear.

    Like many parents of addicted loved ones, we are weary and wary. We are trying hard NOT to enable. Our son would like to remain in sober living. Clearly, he will not have the means to pay come June 11th. I feel it’s a good place for him as he cannot come home, as that simply does not work, and he is not ready to be on his own. Some in support groups have suggested we let him figure it out financially and allow him to experience the consequences of his lack of motivation to get a job.

    I have mixed feelings, and I admit, fear. Fear that if we do not help with the cost of sober living, he will resort to drug use and possibly even selling drugs to survive. Is it considered rescuing or enabling to help in this way? Am I wrong to give too much consideration to what I believe IS hard work in recovery? Thank you!!!!

    1. Enabling is a neutral term that can be applied negatively, enabling someone’s use, or positively, enabling someone to not use.

      Enabling is about context. If your son is doing well, is not using, and is doing what is being suggested to him at the house and for treatment and support, then enable him to continue by paying the rent for a specific time period — he still needs to find that job but everything else about his recovery is good. So support this continued effort with the clear expectation that a job is needed by X.

      If your son is using or close to using and refusing to do anything about it, then a warning with a specific set of possible remedies and a specific time period is fair, like 30 days. A couple months longer of just sitting there unwilling to stop using or to seek additional help is looking more like enabling, as in you are making it easier for him to spend money on drugs, since you are picking up the cost of rent. You are making his use more comfortable by providing the roof over his head.

      You can see these scenarios as two ends of a continuum. You’ll have to weigh the good and the bad, but in first order is the substance use…. is your Loved One heading towards recovery or towards problematic use.

      I hope this helps.

  3. There is a national organization that promotes quality standards for recovery residences (or sober homes). The National Alliance of Recovery Residences, NARR is the leading organization promoting best practices in recovery residences, including the Social Model. To find out more goto Finding a sober home that submits itself voluntarily to 3rd party oversight and national standards can be one way to decide if you are choosing the best resources for your family.

  4. Mothra added the following comment May 10th, 2018:

    “Well our son was asked to leave the sober house. Apparently he was the instigator of problems with another resident with seniority. Although not using he was engaging in and contributing to a lot of drama. To his credit though he managed to pull himself together and find another sober house nearby. After speaking with the director I find the new place to be more strict on meetings and urines, so hoping this is a good thing. For the most part he admitted that he was at fault, though some half truths are known. But that is addiction and that’s the stuff to let slide. He says he’s going to focus on his own recovery and no one else’s. Praying and practicing CRAFT.”

    Dear Mothra: He found another house! It is definitely to his credit. He is not giving up. Having a sense of how to manage relationships is so critical. The suggestion of an early recovery, relationship-oriented, men’s group holds. A tighter sober house should help too. I am so glad for him and for you. Dominique

    1. Dear Dominique and AIR family. We received a call late last night that our son had overdosed and was enroute to the hospital, The hospital would not give us any confirmation if he was there or not, and being told by a third party that it was significant we decided to travel the 2 hours to get there, in a panic and so fearful of the worse. Upon arriving he,was in the lobby waiting for a cab. I’m so grateful to the friend who helped him and the EMTs.

      I’ve read here various postings about the fears,and anxieties caused by a loved ones SUD, and this was so severe in me that all else went out the window. I forgot my list of treatment centers, we didn’t have a plan, nor a talking point plan either. We were blind to everything except the horror, which in our case has become the norm. We pulled it together when we got there and got an bit more on track.

      I’m glad to say he is in a detox tonight, due to his sponsor and house owner and manager..I saw how a really good sober house works for the first time ever. They helped get him placed and if he completes the detox he can return.

      I hope he chooses to stay, but I’m finally resigned that there is nothing more we can do. We used CRAFT in the way that we talked with him,keeping our distance but being pleasant, but he was in no condition to be left alone. We almost took him back home, but decided we would stay in the area until he got placed. Home is our sanctuary and he is not welcomed at this time.

      Our son however seems to see nothing but the lure of the drug..fentanyl. He has had many chances similar to this in the past and always the same result of constant relapse. Even after at least 7 narcan doses to revive him he apparently used again during the night, though we were with him. He would walk off to have a cigarette or spend a long time in the bathroom. It’s so insidious…you think he’s using but not sure. But he was…more horror…He just kept on using despite the fact that he almost died. Nodding off d u ring the ride to detox. I forgot that I could have been more insistent and could have had him held for 72 hours. We could have sectioned him. So many could haves after the fact.

      We are in our 60s and 70s. We are exhausted and discouraged beyond belief. We will not be answering any calls, nor visiting for quite a while. We have neglected ourselves terribly and need a break. I’m grateful for this blog to be able to express my feelings.

      Thanks for reading.

      1. Fentanyl is truly deadly. People are overdosing in record numbers even when compared to prescription opiates and heroin. Your son is in the grips of a very addictive substance. It hijacks our ability to find pleasure elsewhere in life, and the withdrawals are so agonizing that we’ll do absolutely anything to avoid them. There is no choice but to use again.

        Yet your son is in sober housing and is attending some self-help. Part of him, part of the time, is turning towards recovery. Read Dominique Simon-Levine’s full response to Mothra here: