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Monday, March 26, 2012

Community context of sober living houses

The success or failure of programs designed to address alcohol and drug problems can be profoundly influenced by the communities where they are located. Support from the community is vital for long-term stability and conflict with the community can harm a program's reputation or even result in closure.

This study examined the community context of sober living houses (SLHs) in one Northern California community by interviewing key stakeholder groups. SLHs are alcohol- and drug-free living environments for individuals attempting to abstain from substance use.

Previous research on residents of SLHs showed they make long-term improvements on measures of substance use, psychiatric symptoms, arrests, and employment.

Interviews were completed with house managers, neighbors, and key informants from local government and community organizations.

Overall, stakeholders felt SLHs were necessary and had a positive impact on the community. It was emphasized that SLHs needed to practice a “good neighbor” policy that prohibited substance use and encouraged community service.

Size and density of SLHs appeared to influence neighbor perceptions. For small (six residents or less), sparsely populated houses, a strategy of blending in with the neighborhood seemed to work.

However, it was clear that larger, densely populated houses need to actively manage relationships with community stakeholders.

Strategies for improving relationships with immediate neighbors, decreasing stigma, and broadening the leadership structure are discussed. Implications for a broad array of community-based programs are discussed.

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