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What is the Difference Between a Halfway House and Sober Living?

You may have heard the terms halfway house or sober living facility thrown around not only in films and on TV, but also among people you know; if you are new to recovery, or if you have a loved one who is suffering from an addiction and seeking recovery, it’s possible that you’re confused as to what the two words mean, and what the difference between the two types of facilities are. In making decisions about your treatment, or in helping a loved one consider treatment, it’s good to know what the differences are.

What is a Halfway House?

While the terms Sober Living and Halfway House are often used interchangeably, and some states have legal provisions on which words can be used, there are some distinctions between the two types of facilities. A halfway house is usually a residential center where addicts (and in some separate cases, sex offenders, the mentally ill, or convicted felons) live immediately after their release from a primary institution; in the case of addicts, this is usually a rehabilitation center. The purpose of a halfway house is to give these individuals a chance to begin the process of reintegrating with society, while still providing safety in the form of monitoring and support functions (meetings, for example, or counseling). The reason these facilities exist is because having this supportive in-between environment has been found to help reduce the risk of relapse when compared to a return directly into society.

Halfway houses are typically governed by state and federal laws, and they usually have several rules for living there, including:

  • Regular drug screenings
  • Curfews
  • Necessary “work”—such as seeking and procuring a job, as part of treatment
  • Counseling or meetings

Some rehabilitation centers specifically require or request that all of their patients move into a temporary halfway house as part of their ongoing outpatient treatment before returning home.

 

What is Sober Living?

Sober living is slightly different in most definitions of the term. While some rehabilitation facilities refer to the halfway houses they transfer patients to before releasing them into regular society as sober living, most states have very few guidelines or requirements of sober living facilities; this means that ultimately, there are many sober living facilities that have no affiliation with a particular rehab or drug treatment center, and as a result do not offer ongoing treatment services. For practical purposes, most states’ legal definition of a sober living facility is an affordable drug- and alcohol-free environment that provides a place for peer group recovery support. Under legal guidelines, a sober living facility does not have to provide treatment or have the same kind of rules that halfway houses do.

Many individuals stay in sober living long after their active treatment has finished, because they feel it is preferable to stay in the supportive environment for as long as possible as they are re-establishing their lives as an addict in recovery. Typically with halfway houses for addicts, there is a time limit on how long you can remain in the facility. With sober living homes, the primary—and in most cases sole—purpose is to support the individual in maintaining and developing habits and activities which support long-term sobriety. These homes are only for addicts and alcoholics, and can be a much longer-term part of holistic treatment.

In some cases, individuals will choose to go from a halfway house to a sober living facility; the halfway house provides a continuation of the structure and routine (to a degree) that exists in rehab and drug and alcohol treatment, while the sober living facilities offer more freedom within a supportive context. The choices are many, and only you can know what’s right for you.


Our articles are written by individuals who have seen addiction up close. They may have watched addiction take a toll on someone they loved or had their own battles with substances, and they write for us to spare others some of that pain and confusion. If you find these writings useful and would like to speak to someone who gets addiction, call us at (844) 826-1700.

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