Written by Guest Blogger: Patti Hopkins, Owner at La Costa Solutions for Women 

My expertise in the area of Sober Living Homes began long before I decided to open one of my own. Being in long-term recovery myself, I have sponsored many women. Through these relationships, I have learned a lot about how sober living environments are operated; the good and the bad alike.

The primary things I have learned over the years that I would pass on to any consumers or professionals are the red flags that are the signs and symptoms of an unhealthy, or low quality sober living.

Firstly, this phase of the recovery process has to be in an environment that is safe for people new to recovery.  This means free of not only alcohol and drugs, but free of chaos and drama.  A good transitional living home will have a house manager or owner that actually lives on site.  It is extremely helpful, and in my opinion preferable, if the leadership roles are filled by people who are in recovery themselves because sober living is a peer based supportive environment.   I use the word recovery, in this recommendation, but I should disclose that their time in personal recovery should be long term.  Some sober living homes will have a person who is relatively new to recovery themselves as the manager and this is often problematic because they are still going through a lot of personal changes in their own lives.

My personal experience is that Coed Houses are also not a healthy environment. The first thing an alcoholic or addict does when you take away their alcohol or drugs is look for another way to distract themselves or to validate themselves. I have seen it EVERY time in Coed Houses…where very unhealthy relationships start up and the percentages of relapse are extremely high.  Gender specific is a much more effective model for sober living homes.

Before entering a sober living (or entering a loved one) I recommend clarifying specifically how prescription drugs are handled. Remember, this is an environment with people in very new recover, and some will be more committed to their recovery than others. Drug addicts seek drugs when they are in their disease or when they are in a mental relapse. There should be a safe protocol in place regarding how prescription drugs are stored and handled.

Always ask about their relapse policy. Do they even have one? I have heard horror stories about people using and drinking in the sober living home itself. Make sure that you feel confident in what the person tells you regarding how they handle relapse.  A good way to do this can be to ask them to tell you about how they handled a past client that relapsed?  Are they clear in what they are telling you?  Relapses do occur in all sober living homes but the good ones are much better at keeping positive boundaries, keeping their homes safe, and at helping slips not turn into a full blown relapse requiring hospitalization.

Go see the house if it is possible. If you are going to be transitioning from another state and going to sober living sight unseen, call 2-3 reputable treatment facilities close to the house and ask them if they have heard anything about the house. You can also look online at sites like Google Places and Yelp for reviews on from past clients or professionals who have worked with the facility.

Make sure to ask for specifics as to what is included in the cost. I have heard of houses “tacking on” extra costs for rides, drug testing, etc. that clients had no knowledge of before entering.

Lastly, make sure what the philosophy of the house is. Are they a12 Step based house? Are they based in Smart Recovery or LifeRing? Is it required that the clients attend meetings and/or support groups that promote a recovery lifestyle?

It is advisable to avoid a house where recovery is not the base. If there is no structure and no leadership, people with few recovery skills can spiral into negative thinking and discussions and this kind of culture can drag you or your loved one into the muck and mire as well.  The chances for building a foundation in recovery is very low if an example and positive peer culture is not firmly entrenched in the sober living environment.

A good sober living home will have a good reputation in their community and you will likely feel comfortable and satisfied with your initial conversation with them. If you don’t feel that the person you reached on the first contact was engaging, interested and caring…it is probably not the right place.

I wish you all the success in your search and in your journey of Recovery!!

Patti Hopkins

Owner/ La Costa Solutions for Women Sober Living Home

North San Diego County,
Carlsbad, CA