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Looking at Sober Living options…..

As the opioid/addiction epidemic pushes forward, families and advocates cry out for more sober living options, treatment beds and an overall better system for the treatment of addiction and implementation of recovery-based services.

One of the current issues that most do not understand is some of the language used in marketing and advertising specific services. New Jersey has over 400 oxford houses and over 300 sober living options. To the outsider or parent in crisis, any of these could be a good option. However, the difference in some of these could be the difference between lasting recovery or a quick relapse and return to treatment.

The words “accountable” and “structured” have been thrown around over the past few years in hopes of offering consumers a differentiation between the types of houses. Knowing the difference in these sober living options can be critical in making a decision. It appears that “structured” is being used more frequently, when a better description of the housing is “accountable.”  Structured means “to be arranged according to a plan; give a systemized plan to an organization; having a clear framework and set of goals.” Accountable means to “expect to justify actions or decisions; to be responsible for something.” A structured sober living would ask residents to be accountable for their actions but this does not mean that all sober living options have structured houses. Many good houses offer a level of accountability but do not have structured programs.

Oxford Houses offer the least amount of accountability. They are peer run. 15 years ago, Oxford was one of the only and best options. The average age in these houses was 35-40. Since the disease of addiction has been making its way to a younger generation, the average age is now around 25. When an addict/alcoholic admits into an Oxford House, they immediately need to get a job and get their feet moving. There are rules like a 11pm curfew and resident must attend 30 meetings in their first 30 days. They also have random peer-run drug tests. The problem is that these rules often are not followed. One can sleep all day and avoid the rest of the residents with no issue. Many professionals know of individuals who have been using in Oxford Houses for many months while flying under the radar. There have also been times when the Oxford organization needs to come in and kick out the whole house and start over because everyone is using. These houses can be a step in the right direction if it is the only option, but again, they have no structure and little accountability.  With Oxford you never know what you are going to get. Making a 25 year old responsible for overseeing chores often results in a dirty house, and sometimes former residents report that their “bed” was simply two matresses stacked on top of each other.

Sober Living homes that offer accountability often require residents to check-in, have jobs and attend 12-step meetings. These options typically have someone who operates the house (the new Department of Community Affairs regulations require a live-in operator). Often these homes have an owner that collects rent, monitors the drug testing and makes sure the residents are doing chores and going to meetings. However, residents here usually can do what they want, when they want as long as they are paying rent and staying clean and sober. These options can be really fantastic places for more mature adults or young adults that have self-motivation skills, know how to cook, shop and budget for themselves. These sober living options are readily available. They are usually clean, depending how much the operator is involved, and overall a safe place for people to get a fresh start on life.

Truly structured sober living options are much harder to find and often have a larger price tag due to staff and ancillary services. These sober living options typically have on-site staff that is available to assist residents in day-to-day activities, provide support and teach them how to be men and/or women with integrity. Usually these options have much higher standards, daily schedules and planned activities, including meetings that residents should be attending.

It is our belief that Surfside stands above the rest due to our structured schedule. Each minute of the day is accounted for. Residents have a daily schedule to follow that is monitored by our Recovery Specialists, Program Director and Operations Manager. Residents have handbooks with measureable goals they need to complete before they can earn freedom and get the car back. Some of the goals include building a resume, community service, participation in 12-step recovery with a sponsor and finding hobbies that put a smile back on their face. This structure provides direction, self-esteem and teaches them to become accountable.

When looking at different sober living options, it is important to take in consideration the needs of your loved one. If they are in their early 20s and never lived away from home, putting them in an oxford house or un-structured sober living is probably not the best idea. It would be the equivalent of tossing a baby into a pool and hoping they figure out how to swim – it could happen! But it could also end terribly. If they are in their 40s and have been able to hold jobs and manage parts of their life, they could use less structure and potentially an Oxford House.

Our biggest suggestion would be to do a tour of the prospective house, talk to the owner or operator, find reviews of past consumers and if your loved one is going there from a treatment center, talk to the treatment center to find out why that is the recommendation. Sober living options can provide so many different resources or not provide anything at all. If you are going to invest in your loved one, know what you are investing in.