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What Is a Halfway House, and How Does It Work?

Transitional living environments include recovery homes, sometimes referred to as sober living houses or halfway houses. These types of facilities offer residents a stable living environment, support, education, and access to treatment while they are in the early stages of recovery or moving from one stage of recovery to another.

Very often, individuals who use these facilities are stepping down from an inpatient or residential program to a level of more independent living. They are not fully ready to live in a totally unsupervised environment, so a halfway house provides the right amount of structure and support to promote ongoing sobriety. Recovery homes often are partially funded by outside sources, such as the government, private organizations, or charitable organizations. 
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, relapse rates in recovery from substance use disorders remain relatively high. When individuals can be provided with sufficient aftercare and supervision as they transition from an inpatient or medical detox program, the potential for relapse decreases significantly.

The function of a recovery home is to help an individual slowly transition from the early stages of recovery, which are highly structured and supervised, to an environment that offers them independence as well as structure and support.

Moreover, some individuals may not have the financial resources to immediately move into fully independent living when they leave an inpatient unit or medical detox program. They may require assistance while their case managers and health care providers help them to get back on their feet.

The General Makeup of a Halfway House

According to the book Addiction Recovery Management: Theory, Research and Practice, different recovery facilities will often have different rules, regulations, and expectations of their residents, but there are some commonalities among recovery homes.

  • It is generally accepted that individuals in these programs will remain sober and totally free from drugs and alcohol except for prescribed medications, which are typically closely supervised by treatment providers.
  • The level of structure and monitoring in these programs is relatively strong, but not as strong as that of inpatient units.
  • While there is a high level of monitoring and supervision in these programs, the residents are expected to be accountable for their behavior.
  • Many of these programs require random or periodic drug and alcohol testing.
  • Certain types of products that most individuals will use may be banned in many of these programs, such as products that have alcohol in them (mouthwash), over-the-counter medications (even aspirin), and prescription medications without prior approval. 
  • Obviously, the possession of any illicit drugs is not allowed.
  • Most of these facilities require that the person is actively involved in treatment. Typically, the type of treatment one must be involved in is dependent on the person’s situation and treatment plan.
  • Many of these programs require individuals to pay rent as well as their own expenses.
  • Residents are expected to be self-sufficient and perform assigned chores, such as dishwashing, food preparation, or maintenance of the facility. 
  • It is very common for these facilities to require individuals to adhere to a curfew.
  • Visiting hours are typically posted, and residents are expected not to have visitors except during posted visiting hours.
  • Residents are expected to be respectful of other residents and staff members. Any form of aggression or violence is typically grounds for eviction.
  • Individuals who do not follow the rules are subject to penalties or eviction.
  • Most facilities have an agreement that specifies the expectations of residents, and the potential resident is expected to sign it before they are admitted to the facility.

How Long Does Someone Stay in a Halfway House?

The time a person spends in a recovery home or halfway house can be variable and subject to change depending on the person or situation. For instance, someone who has a strong social support system may only stay for a month, whereas someone who has very little or no family or social support may spend months or even years in a recovery home. 

Usually, the decision to remain in a halfway house or move out on their own depends on the person’s ability to engage in independent living and the consent of their treatment providers. Most sources suggest that a 90-day stay in a recovery home is the typical length of stay for individuals who are admitted to these homes. But again, there can be quite a bit of variability with the length of stay depending on the person’s situation.

Moreover, some people may move out of a halfway house to live on their own and find they are not quite ready for a higher level of independence. Thus, there may be some situations where individuals in these facilities move out on a trial basis, are monitored over that period, and then reevaluated. If the individual and their treatment providers deem living on their own is not going well, they could return to a halfway house.

Ultimately, halfway houses or sober living homes are safe environments for people who are new to recovery. It can be incredibly helpful to have a strong sense of structure and support during this vulnerable time. Often, a halfway house can make the difference between someone in early recovery sustaining their sobriety or relapsing back to substance use.


Sources

National Alliance for Recovery Residences. Retrieved December 2018 from https://narronline.org/

(January 2018). Treatment and Recovery. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery

(2010). Addiction Recovery Management: Theory, Research and Practice. Springer Science & Business Media. from

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