Sober Living & Halfway Houses: What You Should Know

One of the most often asked questions we receive is “what’s the difference between a sober living home and a halfway house?’ There are distinct differences between the two, so let’s dig into some sober living home facts.

One of the most confusing sober living home facts is that they’re sometimes referred to as halfway houses. The term ‘halfway house’ has come to mean different things in different parts of the country – in some parts of the country, a halfway house is generally a structured residential treatment center, whereas in other parts of the country, it might be a transitional residence that follows after detox. Whatever the definition your prefer, the term “halfway house” still brings with it a sort of stigma – largely because there has the media is quick to pounce on stories about disreputable facilities and overdoses at halfway houses.

Adding to the confusion is that halfway houses sometimes refer to ex-convicts/parolees who are transitioning back into society. The sober living houses and these type of parolee halfway houses are totally unrelated and have nothing to do with each other.

The good news is the industry has evolved to become far more professional and intentional in its language, primarily through the efforts of the National Alliance for Recovery Residences (NARR). What was once known as a halfway house, three-quarter house, transitional house or sober living home now falls under the heading of recovery residence.

To understand the differences, we have to dig in to the various level of what’s called “aftercare.” It also helps to know the differences between sober living and rehab.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP) and Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) are two options for people who have either completed residential (inpatient) treatment or for various reasons, others who personally or professionally, require an outpatient setting.

Unlike residential or inpatient treatment where patients spend 30 days or more at the facility, those in an outpatient program are not required to spend the night. Treatment sessions in both PHP and IOP are administered during the day, with the difference being the number of hours and days spent at the facility.








Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)

A Partial Hospitalization Program is good for individuals who left residential treatment but understand that while they have still have a ways to go in their path to addiction recovery, a 24-hour setting is no longer necessary.

It’s fairly common for patients to move on to PHP after inpatient treatment and sometimes again to IOP. For others, PHP might be a powerful resource after a relapse after a period f remission. Though programs vary, PHP is generally 6 hours a day, 5 days a week.

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

In an Intensive Outpatient Program, therapy sessions typically run about 3-4 hours a day, and are run about 3 days per week. While IOP can involve one-on-one counseling, the focus is on group therapy.

These sessions work to help patients develop relapse prevention methods that work for them, as well as learn helpful techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy or behavior therapy, depending on the person’s needs. IOP programs vary from person to person as patient moves toward a successful recovery from addiction.

In both PHP and IOP, patients will receive individual treatment plans tailored specifically to their needs. Treatment is usually administered by physicians, psychologists, nurses and other healthcare professionals.

Both PHP and IOP programs can be more affordable than a residential recovery program, largely because many health insurance programs will usually cover the costs. While they all share the same goal of sobriety and relapse prevention, each individual must honestly assess what their true needs are.







Sober Living Homes

There are several different levels and approaches to sober living houses and the lines rapidly become blurred between what is a sober living home and what is a halfway house. State laws play a big role in how they are classified.

The easiest way to explain this is to remember that a halfway house, no matter where you live, is essentially a transitional living facility. There are various levels of supervision and care so it helps to understand these first.

Level 1 recovery residences offer supportive housing in a community-based peer environment. These recovery residences are usually classified as sober living houses, and are most often found in single family residences. Oversight of residents is peer-based within the home; residents are self-monitoring and accountable to each other. The primary criterion for this living environment is a willingness to be abstinent of mood altering substances. Self-help (i.e. 12 step) meetings and outside recovery support services are encouraged or required. Weekly house meetings are a standard component, where chores and overall house functioning is processed within the community.

While there is no paid staff at this level of support, there is often an overseeing operator who facilitates admissions and discharges to the home, and is available if there are house issues that cannot be resolved internally. There are no in-house services offered at this level, except the benefit of living in a supportive community.

These peer-run facilities are best utilized by the individual who has physically and psychologically stabilized for a period of time from substance use, and would benefit from a sober living environment that enables them to implement personal recovery in a safe community. They are appropriate for a more mature individual who has established adult living skills, is able to self-regulate, and is committed to recovery.

This level of support is desirable in that it tends to be cost contained. Length of stay varies and is open- ended – generally from 90 days to several years. Although technically they’re called halfway houses in some states, they’re sober living houses in California.







Level 2: Shared Sober Living Houses

Level 2: These types of homes are still largely classified as sober living homes. These types of residences generally utilize a community-based environment supervised by a senior resident, house manager, or staff member. This staff member monitors operations and residents, and enforces structure that is implemented in the form of house rules or standards. There is an emphasis on community and accountability that manifests in a culture of peer support.

The living environment can be any type of dwelling, but most commonly is a single family residence with shared bedrooms. Like level 1, this setting often proves to be quite cost effective; length of stay varies and is open-ended. At level 2 some degree of ‘programming’ is offered in-house and often in collaboration with outside service providers such as outpatient programs. Support groups may be offered in-house.

The approach for the level 2 residence can best be summarized as a community-based model. This level is appropriate for the individual with some intrinsic motivation who would benefit from a nominal level of structure and support. The model is desirable in that it allows for an increased ability to access services over a longer period of time due to the affordability of the service models.

Some sober living homes go a step further and while working to build a sense of community among its residents, they apply other forms of behavioral stimulation including adventure therapy.