What Is A Halfway House and What Is It Like?

What Is A Halfway House?
Amanda Stevens

Written By

Amanda Stevens
Dr. Po-Chang Hsu -

Medically Reviewed By:

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

Last Medically Reviewed on September 4, 2023

Key Points

  • Halfway Houses are transitional housing usually reserved for addiction recovery.
  • Many houses have rules and expectations that often involve accountability, ongoing treatment, and 12-step programs.
  • This is typically a home-like setting, though it can sometimes be associated with a residential treatment center.

Halfway houses are transitional homes for patients undergoing mental health, drug, and alcohol recovery. These houses are conceptually located “halfway” between the rigid, large-scale psychiatric hospital and the small family home environments the patients would go to once discharged.[1]

There are halfway houses in every state in the US. If you are suffering and in need of support, you can choose from one of nearly 18,000 recovery homes in the US.[2]

While the halfway house model began in the US in the 1960s, it began to proliferate worldwide in the 1970s. There was a growing need to abandon the universal medical model, in which patients are considered ill all of the time while in the hospital. Instead, it sought to offer an alternative: A functional environment without imprisonment.

There are two functional models that often co-exist inside a halfway house: The Family and the Social Models:[3]

  • Family Model: Transitional rules originating from repeated interactions among individuals who live in the community.
  • Social Model: Emphasizes peer support for sobriety and shared responsibilities in managing house operations/maintenance.[4]

What Is The Purpose of A Halfway House?

The purpose of a halfway house is to provide transitional housing for people who need it most. The focus was to separate the user from their previous substance-abusing environment so that they could recover in a sober, supportive environment.

Halfway houses are a community-based treatment center wherein the residents learn life skills with an ingrained social support system. While they may come to the home as “patients,” upon entering, they take the title of “resident.” The decision process for important issues in the house is a democratic one.[5]

Sometimes called “sober living houses,” residents of halfway houses are usually expected to undergo a treatment program for their substance abuse addiction or any other addictions that have negatively impacted their lives.

Are Halfway Houses and Sober Living Homes the Same Thing?

Generally, yes. These words are sometimes used interchangeably. “Sober living” is a recovery-specific term, whereas “halfway houses” can also house parolees transitioning out of the criminal justice system. However, those who are transitioning out of a correctional facility will likely be required to be sober, so the purpose is similar.

However, there are a few distinctions:

Sober-living homes are usually privately owned and expect residents to pay for rent and utilities just like everywhere else. No funding disruptions usually occur, provided all the residents remain current on their rent.

  • Residents can remain in the house for as long as they please, provided they abide by the democratically selected rules. These usually include things like curfew, gainful employment during daytime hours, and (sometimes) rehab program attendance.
  • In-house residents generally assume the roles and responsibilities of staff members.

Halfway houses are usually publicly funded by treatment centers or the government and do not expect residents to cover all living expenses. Funding disruptions could occur at any time, depending on budget cuts for whichever entity owns the house.

  • Residents have a limited time they can live in the house, generally for up to a year. While they are living in the house, they must attend an addiction recovery program or have recently attended one.
  • Staff members are from the general public, live off-campus, and are paid by the entity that owns the house.

Who Is Eligible to Go to a Recovery Residence?

Important: if you are in the midst of an active drug addiction, a sober living home is not the best fit for you. Seek treatment immediately.

A recovery residence (sober living home) provides a safe space with an ingrained social support system for post-detox patients following inpatient treatment but during outpatient treatment. This means that you’ve already completed detoxing from whatever your addiction was and are now in the early stages of sobriety.

Rather than housing people in the throes of addiction, sober living homes provide a space for people seeking to establish a new trajectory for their lives, which includes a practical application to sobriety.

What Are The Typical Rules of a Recovery House?

Rules of a Recovery House

Do you think you would thrive in a recovery house? That’s great news.

All of the social perks of living in a community come with their fair share of expectations. As it was when we were children, recovery houses expect their residents to take an active part in maintaining the house. House chores can include:

  • Yardwork
  • Cleaning and sanitization
  • Repair and maintenance
  • Dishes
  • Laundry
  • Etc

Other expectations can include rules on curfew, drug testing, cooperation, accommodating a sober living environment, sober house (no drugs), house meetings, and check-ins with staff members.

Sober living houses will generally do check-ins with fellow residents who have assumed accountability roles, whereas halfway houses do check-ins with paid staff members who live off-campus.

What Happens After You Leave a Sober Living Facility?

The goal of sober living facilities is to integrate you back into the community as you live out your sobriety every day. However long you decide to stay is up to you.

“Aftercare” is what happens both during and after your initial rehab program. While you’re in rehab, your treatment team is working to make sure you have the skills you need to be successful once you leave.

Your stay in a sober living facility is part of your aftercare. During their stay, many residents choose to be part of 12-step programs designed to help them navigate sobriety and recovery. Ultimately, it’s a lifetime commitment. Here are some 12-step groups to look into:


Frequently Asked Questions About How Long Meth Stays in Urine

What is the Typical Length of Stay in a Halfway House or Sober Home?

In general, a few weeks to a few months is normal. However, many residents stay up to or even longer than a year.

If the resident lives at a halfway house, the time is capped at one year. If they are in a sober living home, the time they remain is up to their choosing. Talk with your care team to determine what length of time works best for you.

Can I Stay in a Sober Living Facility Throughout Addiction Recovery?

Typically yes, unless you are actively using or still undergoing detox. Recovery homes, and by extension, the residents of sober halfway houses, are meant to help guide addiction patients through the early stages of sobriety.

There are many mistakes that can be made during this time, so sober living facilities exist to surround residents with peers who can offer help and support as fellow travelers.

What Happens if I’m at Risk for Relapse While I Am Staying in a Sober Living Environment?

Speak to a member of your care team if you feel as if you are at risk for relapse. They are here to support you. Ultimately, everyone who has suffered from addiction is at risk for relapse. The first step of the 12-step program is admitting your powerlessness over your addiction.

Relapse is always possible. Addiction treatments do not assume the patient has to be immune from temptation in order to be considered successful. Far from it. Addiction treatments in sober living environments focus on giving patients tools to overcome their addictions so that, in time, it will get easier and easier.

Here is a helpful metaphor: Think of relapse and addiction like hiking a mountain. The first time you climb, it is the hardest. You are out of shape. You don’t know the best route. The weather can surprise you.

Avoiding relapse is like forcefully willing yourself to hike the mountain over and over again. Eventually, your legs with strengthen. Your lungs will expand. Callouses will form on your feet. You’ll identify the most effective route. You’ll start to notice weather anomalies, so you can be better prepared for when the rough weather hits.

Eventually, after successive successful hikes, hiking that mountain will begin to feel easier. Eventually, after hundreds or thousands of hikes, it will begin to fill more like a tall hill. You will always have the option to relapse, but you will have practiced the best ways to overcome it.

We take our music-focused treatment for addiction very seriously, so we are going to hold our content to the same precision standards. Recovery Unplugged’s editorial process involves our editing safeguard and our ideals. Read our Editorial Process.


[1][3][5] Reis, A. D., & Laranjeira, R. (2008, December 1). Halfway houses for alcohol dependents: From theoretical bases to implications for the organization of facilities. Clinics (Sao Paulo, Brazil). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2664286/

[2] Jason, L. A., Wiedbusch, E., Bobak, T. J., & Taullahu, D. (n.d.). Estimating the number of substance use disorder recovery homes in the United States. Alcoholism treatment quarterly. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7901811/

[4] Polcin, D. L., & Henderson, D. M. (2008, June 1). A clean and sober place to live: Philosophy, structure, and purported therapeutic factors in sober living houses. Journal of psychoactive drugs. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2556949/

Amanda Stevens

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work.

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