Article 14 -It takes a community: Stability and support at home for recovering addicts

It takes a community: Stability and support at home for recovering addicts

People who have recently emerged from drug or alcohol rehabilitation programs need stability and a place where they can continue the healing process in a safe environment. Recovering addicts and alcoholics suffer from a disease that’s rooted in their brain and body chemistry. They’re extremely vulnerable to social and environmental factors that could trigger a relapse. That’s why therapists recommend avoiding situations that are rife with temptation - especially at a time when people who struggle with substance abuse issues are most susceptible to temptation. Finding an appropriate place to live after rehab is key to recovery because substance abuse is closely connected to situations that abusers face every day.

Among recovering addicts, it’s natural to want to start anew, to remove oneself from the site of past mistakes and regrets. But a fear of the unfamiliar tends to discourage recovering addicts from making radical life changes. Instead, life after rehab is characterized by uncertainty and fear; it’s a time when people have a hard time making rational, well-thought-out decisions.

Ease into it

It is naive to assume that recovering drug and alcohol abusers will be able to move directly from rehabilitation to a substance-free environment. And yet returning to an unstable environment may quickly lead to negative behaviors that can be dangerous and undo months of progress. Today, there are “in-between” options that can help recovering addicts preserve their sobriety, places that cater to their particular needs.

Sober living houses (SLH) offer a safe haven in which recovery is supported by staff. Though SLHs don’t include formal treatment options, they do encourage residents to attend 12-step groups and provide resources for those who have recently completed residential treatment and outpatient programs. However, there is a downside to SLHs. These homes can easily be victimized by unscrupulous realtors, or stigmatized in communities that see them as little more than storehouses for derelicts and dangerous, drug-addled individuals. Residents pay rents that are set by landlords bent on profit and, in some cases, are overcrowded and unsanitary.

Going home

Patients who return home after rehab are often at substantial risk for a relapse in the absence of a recovery plan. A recovery plan sets practical, realistic objectives for the recovering addict that  involve other members of the household in the addict’s recovery. Involvement by family members in the recovery process helps establish important behavioral boundaries as well as a mutual respect that empowers everyone.

It takes a community

Whether living at home or in a supportive group home environment, it’s vital for recovering addicts to move directly from rehab into a supportive housing arrangement. According to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, recovering substance abusers can expect more effective results from treatment if they live in collaborative housing with other addicts. These provide a necessary alternative to living situations that virtually assure a return to addictive behavior. “Just getting people clean and releasing them to the social environments that helped encourage the substance use and other negative behaviors (such as crime) has been shown to be not effective,” according to Leonard Jason, community psychologist at DePaul University.

The impact of community on addicts immediately following rehabilitation is still being studied. However, individual examples point to the efficacy of community support for recovering addicts, without which they are apt to relapse at high rates. Relapse rates are estimated to be as high as 90 percent for people leaving short-term programs without follow-up support, and 40 percent after long-term treatment. Delray Beach, Florida is a remarkable example of recovering addicts banding together in a single, unified community for mutual support. These are people who have come together because they must embrace permanent lifestyle changes, the success of which benefits greatly from communal support.


A special thank you to Kim Thomas for providing the article