Questions to ask when choosing a recovery residence

A recovery residence (often referred to as a sober house) is a safe, structured, and supportive environment for people in and seeking recovery. Many times, people come to a recovery residence after completing residential or inpatient treatment. Sometimes, people move into a recovery residence without having been to treatment.

Each residence has its own unique environment. Some are very structured. Some have very little structure. If you or a loved one is considering a sober living home, ask questions to ensure that it is the right fit.

  • Is the recovery residence certified?

It is important to make sure that the recovery residence is certified either by NARR (National Alliance for Recovery Residences) or by MARR (Maine Alliance for Recovery Residences).

Certification is relatively new in Maine. If the residence is not certified, find out when they will be and if they are in the process. Contact MARR for a list of certified recovery residences.

  • What services does the recovery residence provide?

Most recovery residences provide some level of support services and programming. TheĀ National Alliance for Recovery Residences (NARR) categorizes recovery residences into levels based on the type and intensity of support and services offered.

The higher the NARR level, the more support and services are in place. NARR specifies that no level is “better” than any other; rather, the level of need should be matched with the level of support offered.

Ask about services like peer counseling, educational groups, recreational activities, assistance finding employment, and connections to important community and clinical resources. Request to see a resident calendar, which should list activities, events, groups, etc.

You can also ask about the building itself. How many people share a bedroom? A bathroom? Are meals provided? Who maintains the building?

  • What are the rules?

Recovery residences have rules in order to provide structure, safety, and support for residents. It’s important to see a copy of these rules and understand them clearly before deciding if a residence is the right fit. Rules may include curfew, meeting requirements, telephone limitations, required employment, drug testing, etc. Find out what happens if rules are broken. Are there fines? Under what circumstances are residents asked to leave?

  • What are the costs?

There is a significant variation in the cost of recovery residences, and you need to know that the residence is within your budget. Generally, residences at the higher NARR levels will be more expensive than those at the lower end of the spectrum.

You’ll want to ask what fees, aside from rent, you’ll be required to pay. Are you expected to pay for drug testing? What about food? Are utilities separate or included? Are there fines for breaking house rules? You need to be aware of all possible expenses in order to calculate an accurate monthly budget.

  • What is the policy if a resident relapses?

You need to know about the the recovery residence policy for active drug and alcohol users. Most recovery residences do not allow people to remain if they use. This keeps the house safe for others and maintains a recovery-oriented environment.

A zero-tolerance policy for such relapses is usually in place. At the same time, the recovery residence should assist relapsing residents whenever possible by helping them find a safe place, such as somewhere with higher levels of care and treatment. Emergency contact information should be used, and referrals should be provided to other beneficial resources.

  • What is the training for the staff and what are the staff ratio?

Ask about the staff’s degrees, certifications, and training. It is important that the staff is qualified and experienced. Staff ratio is also important because it determines the amount of individual attention and care you’ll receive. Ask if a house manager or other staff member is on site 24/7. It’s best if a there is staff available to handle potential disagreements and manage the responsibility of dealing with residents who may be disruptive or intoxicated.

  • Will the recovery residence provide names and contact information references about their own (or loved one’s) experience at the residence?

It’s helpful to talk with someone else who is has lived at the recovery residence and can share their own experience. Family members may also wish to talk with other family members, or former residents who can explain first-hand what it is like to live there.

  • Does the residence allow the use of prescribed medications for addiction recovery and other related mental health conditions?

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is more common than in the past, but not all recovery residences are medication treatment oriented and/or capable. It’s important to find this out, and to understand whether medication is part of the recovery residence’s policies and how medication is managed safely. NARR recently released guidelines for use of medication assisted treatment in recovery residences.

In addition, be sure to find out if any of the medications that you may be taking will present an obstacle for living in a recovery residence. Some prescribed medications that have potential for misuse may create a challenge in being eligible for some recovery residences. It is important to find a recovery residence that is capable of supporting of your medical treatment plan.

  • What is the average length of stay?

Find out how long the average stay at the recovery residence is. If there is a high turnover, this may be a sign that the recovery residence does not have a strong program or well-established culture of recovery.