After successful completion of an inpatient or outpatient drug treatment program, a recovering substance abuser will need an effective aftercare strategy to maintain sobriety. Residence in a sober living home can be one of the securest steps to take. It is a particularly good option for those individuals who do not have a safe living environment and family support. Sober living homes vary considerably, with some offering a fuller suite of services than others. However, it is important to note that sober living homes do not provide psychotherapy, dispense medication, or have on-site medical personnel like an inpatient program does.
At a minimum, a resident of a sober living home should expect a drug-free environment, clean and comfortable accommodations, and house rules and policies dedicated to abstinence maintenance. Common operations policies at sober living homes include:
- Zero drug tolerance
- Zero violence tolerance
- A good neighbor policy
- Randomized drug testing
- Detox admission if relapse occurs
Discrimination Laws and Sober Living
Sober living homes are not closely regulated. When it comes to a discussion of law, it is always important to understand the concept of jurisdiction, which includes governance at federal, state, county, and city levels. Although there is no federal law that expressly regulates sober living homes, certain federal laws that protect everyone – such as the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act – implicitly extend to a person’s rights to access to a sober living home. Similarly, although state, county, and city laws may not specifically enumerate the operations requirements of sober living homes, there may be general rules that can be invoked to protect the rights of sober living home residents (such as discrimination laws, disability laws, and contract law). Although there may not be uniform and express sober living home laws in place at present in America, the future may change the legal landscape of these facilities and require them to be state licensed.
Stated most simply, under the Fair Housing Act and American with Disabilities Act, a landlord cannot discriminate against a person based on a disability. Under the acts, a person with a substance abuse disorder is usually considered to be disabled.
Tighter Regulations on the Horizon
It is always difficult to put a positive spin on a tragedy. In the legal community, a well-known aphorism is “tough cases make bad law.” However, heartbreaking tragedies can make for good legal changes. Alba Herrera, of New Jersey, would implicitly agree with the latter proposition. In February of 2014, her son overdosed on heroin in her home after he was evicted from a sober living home for relapsing. Alba did not know her son had been evicted due to a relapse because her adult son did not tell her and the rehab center did not notify her.
According to New Jersey Spotlight, a local news source, Ms. Herrera confronted the sober living facility manager the day after her son fatally overdosed. She wanted to know why she was not informed that her son had relapsed and been evicted. Under current New Jersey law, the home was not required to notify her, as Ms. Herrera’s son was an adult. However, Ms. Herrera made the point that if her son had diabetes and went into a diabetic shock, she would have been notified. A drug relapse can be just as deadly as a relapse of other chronic conditions and yet she was not advised of this fact.
In response to what Ms. Herrera’s perceives as a hole in sober living next-of-kin notification policies, she is working with New Jersey legislators on two bills that would make it easier for residents of sober living facilities to be involuntarily committed for psychiatric care as needed. For instance, under the proposed law, Ms. Herrera’s son’s sober living home would have been required to contact her after his eviction and advise her of his relapse. At that point, to save her son from what would have been a threat of overdose (which is always serious risk after a relapse), Ms. Herrera may have been able to commit her son to the supervised care of a psychiatric facility, which could have stabilized him and prevented the fatal overdose.
As New Jersey Spotlight reports, some sober living facilities have reacted against the proposed law, arguing that it would introduce burdensome requirements and regulations. Further, some mental health professionals have argued that the bill may be overly inclusive and erode the rights of recovering substance abusers in sober living homes. A delicate balance must be always be struck between helping relapsed individuals and overly impinging on their privacy. On the one hand, it is critical for sober living homes to be safe, and on the other hand, it is necessary that they not be regulated to a degree where they are undesirable to live in. A recovering substance abuser, fearful of involuntary commitment, may decide against residence in a sober living home with this policy, which is by no means the intent of these proposed bills. The arguments in support of and in opposition to the proposed laws demonstrate the complications associated with recovery care, especially in the dangerous case of a relapse.
Criminal laws exist to prevent crime, protect the public, and punish offenders. When recovering substance abusers and criminal law cross, a snap judgment would be that the user has committed a violation. But this is not necessarily the case when it comes to sober living homes – criminal laws can protect tenants from the illegal activities of the site’s owner/managers. Such was the case at a sober living home in Florida. According to the Palm Beach Post, a couple who owned and managed a sober living home were recently arrested for dealing and abusing drugs. The sober home residents appear to have been uninvolved in these activities and were shocked to learn this news.
The duo were reportedly in possession of marijuana, drug paraphernalia, and some Xanax (a prescription tranquilizer). The husband of the duo was charged with intent to sell while it appears the wife only used the drugs without dealing them. A criminal informant advised police that the husband stored approximately 10-50 pounds of marijuana on the premises, and the house was locally associated with a cocaine ring.
To avoid these instances of sober living homes operating outside the law, it’s important to choose a facility that is fully licensed. Inquire about the staff members’ certifications and experience with addiction treatment. Taking the time to choose a reputable facility can make all the difference in your, or your loved one’s, sustained sobriety.
At Orlando Recovery Center, we are dedicated to providing exemplary aftercare services to those who need them. Call us to learn more.
Medical Disclaimer: The Orlando Recovery Center aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.