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Is the Sober House Doing Enough?

© john van hasselt via getty images

Mothra doesn't understand the stance of her son's sober house. Is it appropriate to challenge the owner?

"Thanks so much for the encouraging words. He's out of detox and back in the sober house, though they moved him to another house. Working with his sponsor he says, but no other demands from the sober house. He says a counselor at the detox connected him with a local clinic for vivitrol, which I greatly support. He will need a lot of pushing to follow through.

I heard from him today…although he didn't ask me for anything he was very whiney…not a good sign. Then he talks to his dad and all is well. I just don't know. I can't understand why the house is not insisting he attend an IOP or get some counseling. I'm losing faith in the house…do they just want a body to pay the rent? Is it our place to challenge them? He works for the owner…does he just need him? He's a very hard worker. The owner gave us his number after the overdoses and told us to call "anytime." Wondering how far is too far, though mostly I feel nothing is too far when it's down to life or death.

Thanks as always, and bless you all.  —Mothra"


Your son is back in the sober house after yet another overdose and a trip to detox. This time the house is suggesting vivitrol, but that’s it. You question why more isn’t being suggested to him, like an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). You are understandably worried.

You have probably reached the limit of your influence here. You can suggest more to your son; you can suggest more to the owner of the sober house, but that’s probably it for now.

Look up the choices of IOP's in the area and provide the details to both your son and the owner. An IOP may seem elementary or too basic to them, but it is a place to stay active in recovery for a good part of the day for 4-5 weeks. These 5 weeks can give your son a more structured day and a leg up on early sobriety. Put Vivitrol clinics on the list.

I have a suspicion that the house may be heavily 12 step-oriented. This is fine, BUT 12-step oriented individuals (including the owner who may be in recovery) are not great proponents of other treatments for SUD. It’s not that they are against other treatments (though we have recently addressed the fact that some individuals in 12-step programs can be judgmental of MAT), but the tenets of AA/NA suggest that the 12 steps are all that is needed. “AA has no opinion on outside matters,” and this includes outside treatment.

It’s not one or the other, it is both or many. For those who don’t or can’t make it alone with self-help, the self-help should be wrapped in other treatments, as you are suggesting.



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. Like 25Coronet, I also manage a sober house. The greatest misconception people have about sober houses is that sober houses are somehow “treatment”, when the definition of a sober house is a residence where drugs, alcohol or intoxication are not permitted.

    This misconception is often fully endorsed by addicts that aren’t quite ready for sobriety, because the addict doesn’t want actual treatment but is looking for the freedom to relapse. This misconception is also sometimes willfully embraced by parents at the end of their wits, who would love to find a live-in treatment for their child so they won’t have to worry about them. Unfortunately for the parents, short of rare therapeutic communities or expensive long-term facilities, this option doesn’t exist.

    Some sober houses have in-house fellowship meetings, and a few sober houses even dispense medication (but that number is declining). But sober houses are NOT treatment facilities.

    The model for recovery used to be five-to-seven-day detox, thirty-day ‘rehab’, a couple of months (or a couple of years) in a halfway house, then a sober house, which could also be called a three-quarter house or sober-living house.

    Some sober houses have a very strict limit on the time a resident can stay; some are open ended. Some sober houses are very clinical and have the feel of a treatment facility or hospital and the residents must get permission for outside work or even a trip to the grocery store. Unfortunately, on the other end of the scale, some sober houses are no more than rooming houses, and not particularly “sober”, either.

    But no sober house is a medical facility, and there should never be any expectation that a sober house is making recommendations for treatment or referrals to to an IOP. The young man in question has relapsed and overdosed repeatedly. That means he has DOZENS of medical professionals in his recent history that could be helping him make the right choices for treatment for his addiction.

    Don’t put that responsibility on the sober house. That’s like asking your landlord for advice on cancer treatments.

    1. Thanks for your response. However, I find I only partially agree, based on my own 20 plus years of experience with a loved one’s SUD, plus 36 years experience as a medical professional.
      I fully understand that a sober house is not a treatment facility, as well as fully understanding the lack of true treatment facilities available for the number of clients who need them. That is why this website exists; to assist those of us who are looking for help for our loved ones, and learning how we can help in the right way.
      My concern was that the sober house took him back 3 times after using, with no level of accountability put on him to seek further treatment. Surely, that is something to expect, naively or not. The house in question has mandatory meetings, screenings 3 times a week, and expects multiple 12 step meeting attendance weekly as well. So, I hope you can see my dismay that there was no push to make IOP or other counseling a condition of living there.
      Yes, my son has overdosed and relapsed repeatedly. No, there are not DOZENS of medical professionals standing by to assist him. In reality, these folks are too overwhelmed by the epidemic of substance abuse, as are the few outpatient facilities available for services. An example is that he has called 3 separate local facilities for vivitrol assistance, and has been told that he will not be able to be seen for several weeks to months.
      That is discouraging information, and a recipe for relapse for one so fragile. Believe me, he WANTS to be clean, he WANTS to be whole again. Please don’t assume that he doesn’t.
      Fortunately, right now he is hanging in there, but I feel that without any consequences pending, one disturbing event (there is always something for an addict – court dates, job issues, friends, etc.) could push him over the cliff again.
      Those who accept our loved ones into sober homes DO have a responsibility to help them with the realities of living…otherwise they should not be in business.

  2. As a manager of two Sober Houses, both of which are MASH (Massachusetts Alliance of Sober Houses) certified, I feel that I should address some common misperceptions that exist about these “facilities.” First, Sober Houses are independently managed houses, even those certified by MASH, and what this means is that every house operates with its own set of guidelines, expectations, and level of involvement on the part of management in participants’ lives.

    In my case, we are very careful about who we admit to our houses. They must have graduated from a DPH licensed Half-way house prior to admission, and have left the facility in good standing. They also must be capable of supporting themselves financially, and have a good record of working with others in a residential environment. We encourage MAT involvement, but we do NOT monitor its use… We feel that by this point, individuals have demonstrated that they can manage their own lives, but benefit from living with other people who are also committed to a life of recovery.

    What recovery means to us is not necessarily defined by 12-Step adherence, though we have found that people who are truly committed to 12-Step concepts are usually at a place where they are actively reflecting on their life process, and working on ways to engage with respect and empathy with others attempting to do the same thing. Our house is truly independent living, and people who are not ready to start living on their own and be committed to abstinence do not fare well in our houses.

    One of the most difficult challenges I face as a “landlord” who is not running a “program” is what happens when people relapse. We always give people a chance to re-engage in formal treatment, and upon completion of that phase of re-calibration, return to the house with some additional conditions attached to their re-admission. There always comes a time when this process fails, and people find themselves going through formal eviction processes, which is the worst part of trying to work with people in these environments. I feel that parents/loved-ones must understand that well-managed Sober Houses are really limited in what they can do to “manage” people’s behavior, just as parents experience when their children behave in ways that cause them to ask them to leave their homes. Ultimately, true independence requires responsibility, integrity and honest communication with others. It is the MOST difficult part of living in this world, particularly when addiction is part of the picture. Just know that Sober Houses are not responsible for managing people’s lives… they are, and just like “normal” life experience, when people cannot act responsibly, they often lose their living situations, and the reality of “un-manageability”, sadly, emerges once again.

  3. You are right about the 12 step approach within the house, as well as the owner and his sponsor. I’ll get the list together for my son and the owner…and I guess that’s about all I can do.

    My fears abound. We are approaching fall, when he traditionally goes haywire as the holidays approach, and I feel there has not been any real progress made. Seems like the sober house just mimics what it used to be like at home…go out and use, say you want to stop, go to detox, come home and start the process over and over again after a short period of sobriety.

    I’ll get a list for him and the owner…and I guess that’s all I can do at this point. I will continue to push MAT. Going to find a REST meeting. Thanks for your good counsel. M