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Sober House Rules: What Happens If You Relapse?

Written By: Harris House

Category: Alcohol, Blog, Recovery

Group of people eating together at a large table.

Sober homes aren’t just a place to live; they’re also a support community.

Sober houses, AKA halfway houses, have many benefits for newly recovering addicts. Serving as a buffer between the more protective environments of a substance abuse treatment centers and the harshness of “the real world,” the move to a sober house can be an invaluable transitional resource in facilitating recovery.

However, given the oft-quoted truth that “recovery is a journey, not a destination,” and the always-present possibility of relapse, what happens when someone relapses while living in a sober home? Here’s a closer look at the issue.

Understanding Sober Living Houses

Social factors play a significant role in recovery outcomes. One of the most critically important elements of a person’s social network? The living environment. Says research published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, “Lack of a stable, alcohol and drug-free living environment can be a serious obstacle to sustained abstinence. Destructive living environments can derail recovery for even highly motivated individuals.” Enter sober living houses.

According to research published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, sober living houses facilitate positive outcomes across several measures, including substance use, symptoms, and addiction severity.

Two young men drinking coffee.

Owning your mistake isn’t easy, but it’s the first step in the shift from relapse to recovery.

Sober House Sobriety Rules

Different sober living homes have different levels of supervision, rules, and expectations. At the same time, all share at least one core principle: residents must be committed to sobriety. What does this mean when you factor in relapse rates of up to 60 percent — meaning it’s more likely than not that an addict will eventually use again?

For starters, while sober houses may have the expectation of sobriety, they also understand that relapses can and do happen. Depending on how a particular sober living home is operated, the repercussions may be different regarding what happens to people who violate this rule.

Sober living homes with zero-tolerance policies may ask you to leave if you relapse (or violate any other rules, for that matter). You may also be given a temporary suspension until you’ve demonstrated your ability to be clean and sober. Others may allow you to stay but may require you to attend meetings or do community service. It’s important to remember that these rules are not intended as punishment, but as guideposts on the pathway to recovery. 

Regardless of the short- and long-term impact of admitting your mistake, owning it immediately is the best course of action. (In sober living, as in life, “honesty is the best policy.”) Lying about your relapse and attempting to cover it up can lead to more dire consequences while simultaneously impeding your recovery. Admitting your relapse is the first step to getting back on track. In this sense, think of it as an opportunity to assess and adjust both your reasons for relapsing and where your recovery care fell short. It’s also critical to accept that while relapse doesn’t necessarily necessitate a return to a strict treatment program, more intensive intervention in the form of an outpatient or inpatient program may be in order.

Relapsing can be frustrating, especially if you’ve made progress as part of a sober living community. However, this doesn’t mean that a substance-free life is impossible and that you should give up. Rather, re-entering treatment can give you access to the tools you need to progress further on your journey to lasting recovery and a more satisfying life. Contact us at leading St. Louis area substance abuse treatment center Harris House to learn more about our programs for addicts and those in recovery.