What is an SLH?
The purpose of sober living houses (SLHs) is to provide a safe, supportive, and affordable housing option to those in recovery. Sober living houses have been used as aftercare placements for clients completing residential treatment, places for clients to live while attending outpatient treatment, or as stand-alone approaches for substance misuse problems. The houses are funded through resident fees, come in a variety of sizes, and are located throughout neighborhoods that allow prospective residents to also consider location in choosing their SLH setting.
A central objective of SLHs is to provide a positive living environment that reduces exposure to relapse triggers. People at SLHs are able to craft a life that supports their recovery efforts. Each house maintains a communal recovery environment which includes abstinence from drugs and alcohol, peer support, and typically require attendance to self-help groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. No formal treatment services are offered on-site, but individuals are expected to work towards constructing a life that supports long-term recovery and assists informally toward recovery goals. Rather than being run by formal treatment providers, SLHs are and typically overseen by a house manager or a group of senior residents. Residents are surrounded by others in recovery that “get it.” Residents can stay as long as they need with the abstinence-based housing model providing a critical support system.
What is the history of SLHs?
Similar to how the 12-step movement was created by people in recovery from addiction, sober living homes were started by those in recovery who wanted to bridge the gap between intensive, early recovery and sustainable, long-term recovery. This need grew out of the vacuum created by medical and housing policies that treated addiction as an acute, short-term problem and ignored housing obstacles for those in early stages of recovery. As treatment for addiction shifted from state institutions to community-based care when psychiatric populations were deinstitutionalized, the need for housing for those in recovery was addressed by the SLH movement in California in the 1970s. Instead of utilizing an acute treatment model that views addiction as “treated” or “cured” after a short stay at an inpatient program, SLHs provide long-term recovery while living and working in the community.
As the recovery community has moved towards a continuum of care model that addresses the needs of those struggling with addiction throughout all stages of recovery, SLHs were adopted as an option in this model for those in the recovery phase after acute care and transitioning to long-term recovery.
What research has been conducted on SLHs?
Since this addiction recovery housing option did not emerge as an evidence-based treatment option by clinicians and exists outside the licensed treatment system, little research has been conducted on its efficacy and recommendations for the most efficacious approaches to SLHs. Such approaches include how to best structure the home, the home’s location in the community, and lengths of stay.
SLHs have existed as a recovery option since the 1970s, yet they have been largely ignored in the addiction and criminal justice literatures, that is until these recent investigations by our team at ARG (e.g., Polcin, 2006, Polcin et al., 2010). Beginning in the early 2000s, Doug Polcin began examining SLHs and what should be considered when doing this research, such as general outcomes for those who stay at SLHs, characteristics of individuals with the best outcomes, and recommendations for lengths of stay. Rachael Korcha, and Amy Mericle later joined the research team at ARG that has been examining these homes as a recovery residence option.
What are some of the outcomes from research on SLH?
The SLH team at ARG is contributing to this knowledge by conducting research on SLHs. Through studies of SLHs, preliminary data based on a sample of 300 individuals entering 16 SLHs in Northern California showed resident improvement in a variety of areas, including drug and alcohol use, employment, psychiatric symptoms, and arrests (Polcin et al., 2010). Improvements in drug and alcohol use and severity were made and maintained 18-months after initial entry into the SLH. Average length of stay was approximately 3 months with longer lengths of stay associated with the most significant improvements.
New Publications on Sober Living
Polcin, D.L., Galloway, G.P., Taylor, K., Lopez, D. & De Barraicua (2005, June). The Ecology of Sober Living Houses: Adapting to Recovery from Addiction. Oral presentation delivered at the Society for Community Research and Action, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.
Polcin, D. L. (2006, January). Where are clients going to live? Potential roles for sober living houses. Oral presentation delivered at the International Conference on the Treatment of Addictive Behaviors (ICTAB-11), Santa Fe, NM, January 29–February 2.
Polcin, D.L. (2006, June). What are “Sober Living Houses” and who benefits from them? Poster presented at the Research Society on Alcoholism, Baltimore, MD.
Polcin, D.L. (2006, October). Sober Living Houses after, during, and as an Alternative to Treatment. Oral presentation delivered at the Addiction Health Services Research (AHSR) Conference: Understanding the Community Perspective, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Polcin, D.L. & Korcha, R. (2006, November). Sober Living Houses for Substance Use Disorders: Do Residents Receive the Services They Need? Poster presented at the American Public Health Association 134th Annual Meeting and Exposition, Boston, MA.
Polcin, D.L., Korcha, R. & Bond, J. (2007, July). Who Receives Confrontation in Recovery Houses and when is it Experienced as Supportive? Poster presented at the Research society on Alcoholism, Chicago, Illinois.
Polcin, D.L., (2007, August). Creating the Environmental Context for Sustained Alcohol and Drug Recovery. (Symposium Chair). American Psychological Association Annual Conference, San Francisco, CA.
Polcin, D.L. (2008, June). A model for sober living houses during outpatient treatment and 6-month outcomes. Poster presented at the Research Society on Alcoholism Annual Meeting, Washington DC.
Polcin, D.L., Lapp, W., Korcha, R. & Galloway, G. (2008, November). Three models of residential recovery houses for addiction: One year outcomes. Oral presentation at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting & Exposition 137th Annual Meeting & Exposition, Philadelphia, PA
Korcha, R. A., Polcin, D.L. (2009, October). Sober Living Houses as a Viable Model for Continuing Care. Addiction Health Services Research Conference. San Francisco, CA.
Polcin, D.L. (2009, October) Keynote address: What are we learning from research on sober living houses, and where do we go from here? The Southern California Recovery Summit. Loyola Marymount University Addiction Counseling Program. Los Angeles, CA.
Mulia, N., Polcin, D.L. & Jones, L. (2009, November). Understanding the context of confrontation: Implications for recovery from substance abuse. Oral presentation at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Korcha, R.A., Polcin, D.L., Bond, J., & Galloway, G. (2009, October). Sober living houses as a viable model for continuing care. Poster presented at the meeting of Addiction Health Services Research, San Francisco, CA.
Korcha, R. A., Polcin, D. L., Bond, J. C., & Galloway, G. P. (2010, June). Psychiatric distress and substance use outcomes among Sober Living residents, Poster presented at the 33rd Annual Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA) Scientific Meeting. San Antonio, TX.
Korcha, R.A., Polcin, D.L., Nayak, M.N., Buscemi, R., Bond, J., & Galloway, G. (2010, July). Sober living houses as a recovery option for methamphetamine dependence. Poster presented at the Translational Research on Methamphetamine Addiction, Pray, Montana.
Polcin, D.L., Korcha, R., Wittman , F. & Troutman, D. (2010). Sober Living Houses for Offenders: Outcomes and Barriers. Paper presented at the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs Training Conference 2010. Sacramento, CA.
Polcin, D.L., Korcha, R., Bond, J. & Galloway, G.P. (2010, November). Sober Living Houses for Substance Abusing Offenders. Paper presented at the 138th. American Public Health Association Annual Meeting: Social Justice and Public Policy, Denver, Colorado.
Polcin, D.L. (2014). What are we learning about California sober living houses? Oxford House 16th Annual World Convention. Portland, Oregon: September 11-14.
Korcha, R. A., Polcin, D.L., Mericle, A. A. & Bond, K. (2014). Sober living houses: Research in northern and southern California. Presentation at the Annual Addiction Health Services Research conference, Boston, MA: October 16-17.
Polcin, D.L. & Wittman, F.D. (2014). Sustaining long-term recovery in sober living houses: History, research and practice considerations. California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals Annual Conference. San Diego, CA: October 29 -November 2.
Polcin, D.L., Mahoney, E., Mericle, A.A. & Korcha, R. (2015). Sober Living Houses for Ex-Offenders. 2015 Annual Oxford House Convention, Washington, D.C.: September 3-6.
Karriker-Jaffe, K., Polcin, D.L., Sheridan, D., Gupta, S., Korcha, R., Mahoney, E. & Mericle, A. (2015). Distribution and neighborhood correlates of sober living house (SLH) locations in Los Angeles. Poster Presentation at the Addiction Health Services Research (AHSR) Conference, Marina del Rey, CA: October 14–16.
Polcin, D.L., Korcha, R., Mericle, A.A, Gupta, S., Witbrodt, J. (2016). Longitudinal Study of Housing, Psychiatric Distress, and Substance Abuse Problems among Sober Living House Residents. Poster presentation at the College on Problems of Drug Dependence 78th Annual Meeting, La Quinta, CA: 2016 June 11-16.
Polcin, D.L. & Sheridan, D.M. (2016). Innovation in Sober Living House Services and Research. Oral presentation at the Substance Use Disorders 2016 Statewide Conference: Shifting the SUD Paradigm, Garden Grove, CA: August 23-25.
Polcin, D.L., Korcha, R., Mericle, A., & Mahoney, E. (2016). Reducing HIV Risk and Substance Abuse among Ex-Offenders: MI Enhanced Case Management with Drug-Free Housing. Poster presented at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting, Denver, Colorado: November 2.
Polcin, D.L. (2001). Sober living houses: Potential roles in substance abuse services and suggestions for research. Substance Use and Misuse, 36(2), 301-311.
Polcin, D.L. (2006). How health services research can help clinical trials become more community relevant. International Journal of Drug Policy, 17, 230-237.
Polcin, D.L. (2006). What about Sober Living Houses for parolees? Criminal Justice Studies: A Critical Journal of Crime, Law and Society, 19(3), 291-300.
Polcin, D.L. & Greenfield T.K. (2006). Confrontation about potential harm related to substance use: Changes in and correlates of confrontation in sober living houses. Therapeutic Communities, 27(3), 373-386.
Polcin, D.L. (2009). Communal living settings for adults recovering from substance abuse. Journal of Groups in Addiction and Recovery, 4, 7-22.
Polcin, D.L. (2009). A model for sober housing during outpatient treatment. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 41(2), 153–161.
Polcin, D. L., Korcha, R. A., Bond, J., & Galloway, G. (2010). Sober living houses for alcohol and drug dependence: 18-month outcomes. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 38(4), 356-365.
Polcin, D.L., Galloway, G.P., Bond, J., Korcha, R. & Greenfield, T.K. (2010). How do residents of recovery houses experience confrontation between entry and 12-month follow-up? Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 42, 49-62.
Polcin, D.L., Korcha, R., Bond, J. & Galloway (2010). Eighteen month outcomes for clients receiving combined outpatient treatment and sober living houses. Journal of Substance Use, 15, 352-366.
Polcin, D.L., Korcha, R., 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, 425-33.
Korcha, R. A., Polcin, D. L., Bond, J., Lapp, W. M., & Galloway, G. (2011). Substance use and motivation: A longitudinal perspective. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 37, 48-53.
Polcin, D. L., Buscemi, R., Nayak, M., Korcha, R., & Galloway, G. P. (2012). Sex Differences in Psychiatric Symptoms Among Methamphetamine-dependent Residents in Sober Living Houses. Addictive Disorders & Their Treatment, 11(2), 53-63.
Polcin, D. L., Henderson, D., Trocki, K., Evans, K., & Wittman, F. (2012). Community context of sober living houses. Addiction Research & Theory, 20(6), 480-491.
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.
Polcin, D. L., Mulia, N., & Jones, L. (2012). Substance Users’ Perspectives on Helpful and Unhelpful Confrontation: Implications for Recovery. Journal of Dsychoactive Drugs, 44(2), 144-152.
Wittman, F. D., & Polcin, D. L. (2014). The evolution of peer run sober housing as a recovery resource for California communities. International Journal of Self Help and Self Care, 8(2), 157-187.
Wittman, F. D., Jee, B., Polcin, D. L., & Henderson, D. (2014). The Setting is the Service: How the architecture of sober living residences supports community-based recovery. International Journal of Self Help and Self Care, 8(2), 189-225.
Polcin, D. L. (2014). Introduction to the Special Issue: Architecture Enhances Mutual Aid in Sober Living Houses. International Journal of Self Help and Self Care, 8(2), 153-156.
Polcin, D. (2015). How should we study residential recovery homes? International Journal of Therapeutic Communities, 36(3), 163-172.
Polcin, D. L., Korcha, R. A., & Bond, J. C. (2015). Interaction of motivation and psychiatric symptoms on substance abuse outcomes in sober living houses. Substance Use & Misuse, 50(2), 195-204.
Polcin, D. L., & Korcha, R. (2015). Motivation to maintain sobriety among residents of sober living recovery homes. Substance abuse and rehabilitation, 6, 103.
Polcin, D. L., Mericle, A. A., Callahan, S., Harvey, R., & Jason, L. A. (2016). Challenges and rewards of conducting research on recovery residences for alcohol and drug disorders. Journal of Drug Issues, 46(1), 51-63.
Korcha, R. A., Polcin, D., & Bond, J. (2016). Interaction of motivation and social support on abstinence among recovery home residents. Journal of Drug Issues, 46(3), 164-177.
Polcin, D., Korcha, R., Gupta, S., Subbaraman, M. S., & Mericle, A. A. (2016). Prevalence and trajectories of psychiatric symptoms among sober living house residents. Journal of Dual Diagnosis, 2, 175-184.
Polcin, D. L. (2016). Co-occurring substance abuse and mental health problems among homeless persons: Suggestions for research and practice. Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless, 25(1), 1-10.
Polcin, D., Witbrodt, J. Korcha, R., Gupta, S., & Mericle, A. A. (2016). Course of psychiatric symptoms and abstinence among methamphetamine dependent persons in sober living recovery homes. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 3, 1-8.
Mericle, A.A., Karriker-Jaffe, K.J., Gupta, S., Sheridan, D.M. & Polcin, D.L. (in press). Distribution and Neighborhood Correlates of Sober Living House Locations in Los Angeles. American Journal of Community Psychology.
Polcin, D.L., & Korcha, R. (in press). Housing status, psychiatric symptoms, and substance abuse outcomes among sober living house residents over 18 months. Addictive Disorders and Their Treatment.
Wittman, F.D., Polcin, D.L., & Sheridan, D. (in press). The architecture of recovery: two kinds of housing assistance for chronic homeless persons with substance use disorders. Drugs and Alcohol Today.
Polcin, D.L., Korcha, R. (in press) Social support influences on substance abuse outcomes among sober living house residents with low and moderate psychiatric severity. Journal of Alcohol Drug Education.