Should sober homes be regulated?

One of the best shifts I’ve seen in treatment provided to folks with substance use disorder is a greater focus on basic life needs fulfillment. It’s a common sense approach that’s been lacking. The more people can attain safe housing, medical care, food security, and jobs, the more likely they are to attain and maintain sobriety, and ultimately, recovery.

Sober housing is not well defined legally and there are many different types. The Oxford Group is the longest standing organization that coordinates development and maintenance of sober homes in the US. They’ve been around since 1975. They’re peer run and function as a group of roommates who share expenses, agree to abstinence (usually zero tolerance), and are to varying degrees, supportive of one another’s recovery programs.

Does a system that’s operated wonderfully for almost 45 years without funding or regulation suddenly need oversight? Assuredly not. Nor do other private parties who decide to share a home and support for developing lives. Unfortunately, in many municipalities, zoning regulations exist that limit the number of (biologically) unrelated people who can live together. While we want recovery efforts to be visible in our communities, it’s not always conducive to their development.

In the case where a sober home is promising therapeutic benefit and/or is being funded by local, state, or federal funding, regulations and oversight are absolutely a good idea to ensure accountability. Having the facility and staff licensed provides a level of security for residents and protects the community and tax payers from misuse. Fraud cases like we saw in Florida just over a year ago cannot be tolerated.

In the case where sober homes are private but expensive, I urge folks to do their homework. There’s no shortage of for profit and even non-profit entities that profit off of our vulnerability. Please look closely at claims made for therapeutic benefit and research the credentials of those who offer such services. Consider the value of peer support (huge) but temper it with other natural and professional supports in your recovery process. Recovery requires support and networks. There is no one solution nor is there one person or group who can meet all of our needs, regardless of price.