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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

February 28, 2021 (Originally Published)

March 11, 2024 (Last Updated)

Table of Contents

One of the most often asked questions we receive at our California rehab is “what’s the difference between a sober living home and a halfway house?’ There are distinct differences between the two, so let’s dig into some sober living home facts.

Whether you are trying to learn this information for yourself or to help support a loved one in a sober living home, it can be important to learn the difference.

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One of the most confusing sober living home facts is that they’re sometimes referred to as halfway houses. The term ‘halfway house’ has come to mean different things in different parts of the country – in some parts of the country, a halfway house is generally a structured residential treatment center, whereas, in other parts of the country, it might be a transitional residence that follows after detox. Whatever the definition you prefer, the term “halfway house” still brings with it a sort of stigma – largely because there has the media is quick to pounce on stories about disreputable facilities and overdoses at halfway houses.

Adding to the confusion is that halfway houses sometimes refer to ex-convicts/parolees who are transitioning back into society. The sober living houses and these types of parolee halfway houses are totally unrelated and have nothing to do with each other.

The good news is the industry has evolved to become far more professional and intentional in its language, primarily through the efforts of the National Alliance for Recovery Residences (NARR). What was once known as a halfway house, three-quarter house, transitional house or sober living home now falls under the heading of recovery residence.

To understand the differences, we have to dig into the various level of what’s called aftercare. It also helps to know the differences between sober living and rehab for drug or alcohol abuse.

someone in a sober living California

Treatment Programs During Sober Living

Partial hospitalization programs (PHP) and intensive outpatient programs (IOP) are two options for people who have either completed residential treatment or for various reasons, others who personally or professionally, require an outpatient setting.

Unlike residential or inpatient treatment where patients spend 30 days or more at the facility, those in an outpatient program are not required to spend the night. Treatment sessions in both PHP and IOP are administered during the day, with the difference being the number of hours and days spent at the facility.

Partial Hospitalization Program

partial hospitalization program (PHP) is good for individuals who left residential treatment but understand that while they still have a ways to go in their path to addiction recovery, a 24-hour setting is no longer necessary.

It’s fairly common for patients to move on to PHP after inpatient treatment and sometimes again to IOP. For others, PHP might be a powerful resource after relapse or after a period of remission. Though programs vary, PHP is generally 6 hours a day, 5 days a week.

Intensive Outpatient Program

In an intensive outpatient program (IOP), therapy sessions typically run about 3-4 hours a day and are run about 3 days per week. While IOP can involve one-on-one counseling, the focus is on group therapy.

IOP programs vary from person to person as the patient moves toward a successful recovery from addiction.

In both PHP and IOP, patients will receive individualized treatment plans tailored specifically to their needs. Treatment is usually administered by physicians, psychologists, nurses, and other healthcare professionals.

Both PHP and IOP programs can be more affordable than a residential recovery program, largely because many health insurance programs will usually cover the costs. While they all share the same goal of sobriety and relapse prevention, each individual must honestly assess what their true needs are.

a few guys in sober living California program

Sober Living California Homes

There are several different levels and approaches to sober living houses and the lines rapidly become blurred between what is a sober living home and what is a halfway house. State laws play a big role in how they are classified.

The easiest way to explain this is to remember that a halfway house, no matter where you live, is essentially a transitional living facility. There are various levels of supervision and care so it helps to understand these first.

Level 1: Recovery Residences

These residences offer supportive housing in a community-based peer environment. These recovery residences are usually classified as IOP sober living and sober living houses and are most often found in single-family residences. The oversight of residents is peer-based within the home; residents are self-monitoring and accountable to each other. The primary criterion for this living environment is a willingness to be abstinent from mood-altering substances. Self-help (i.e. 12 step) meetings and outside recovery support services are encouraged or required. Weekly house meetings are a standard component, where chores and overall house functioning are processed within the community.

While there is no paid staff at this level of support, there is often an overseeing operator who facilitates admissions and discharges to the home and is available if there are house issues that cannot be resolved internally. There are no in-house services offered at this level, except for the benefit of living in a supportive community.

These peer-run facilities are best utilized by the individual who has physically and psychologically stabilized for a period of time from substance use and would benefit from a sober living environment that enables them to implement personal recovery in a safe community. They are appropriate for a more mature individual who has established adult living skills, is able to self-regulate, and is committed to recovery.

This level of support is desirable in that it tends to be cost-contained. Length of stay varies and is open-ended – generally from 90 days to several years. Although technically they’re called halfway houses in some states, they’re sober living houses in California.

Level 2: Shared Sober Living Houses

Level 2: These types of homes are still largely classified as sober living homes. These types of residences generally utilize a community-based environment supervised by a senior resident, house manager, or staff member. This staff member monitors operations and residents and enforces structure that is implemented in the form of house rules or standards. There is an emphasis on community and accountability that manifests in a culture of peer support.

The living environment can be any type of dwelling, but most commonly is a single-family residence with shared bedrooms. Like level 1, this setting often proves to be quite cost-effective; the length of stay varies and is open-ended. At level 2 some degree of ‘programming’ is offered in-house and often in collaboration with outside service providers such as outpatient programs. Support groups may be offered in-house.

The approach for the level 2 residence can best be summarized as a community-based model. This level is appropriate for the individual with some intrinsic motivation who would benefit from a nominal level of structure and support. The model is desirable in that it allows for an increased ability to access services over a longer period of time due to the affordability of the service models.

Some sober living programs go a step further and while working to build a sense of community among its residents, they apply other forms of behavioral stimulation including adventure therapy.

a group in a California halfway house

Continuing Care at Renaissance Recovery

There is always the possibility of relapse after addiction treatment. However, continuing care and involvement in outpatient programs can reduce the risk of relapse. Renaissance Recovery’s California and Florida rehab programs provides the following programs to continue your journey of recovery:

  • Outpatient rehab
  • Alumni and community program
  • Experiential and adventure-based programs

Contact us today by calling our team at 866.330.9449 for access to our Orange County rehab and sober living programs in California.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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