Over 19.7 million Americans struggle with a substance use disorder. Each year, some 11% of us reach out and go to either inpatient or outpatient rehab. For many, once that 30-90-day program is over, so is rehab. Substance use disorder treatment has come a long way in a few short decades, and the length and type of care offered is one of the items that is most quickly changing. Today, experts recommend longer treatment, like inpatient residential rehab, with follow-up and aftercare programs extending months or even years after treatment ends. In fact, comprehensive aftercare, including social support, ongoing therapy, and regular checkups, are one of the most important factors of remaining clean or sober following treatment.
Sober companions are one of the new options for aftercare, and they present a significant form of social and moral support in a recovery period that, for most of us, is incredibly difficult. Sober companions are not the right choice for everyone. However, they might offer you the extra support and motivation you need to truly get back on your feet and to stay sober, even in a difficult period of isolation, personal struggle, and cravings.
What is a Sober Companion?
Sober companions are assistants and caregivers, often with varying levels of qualifications and medical certification, offering support to individuals graduating from recovery programs. Sober companions may be offered as part of aftercare for a recovery program, as a final service from a sober home, or offer their own services independently of any medical institution.
Sober companions are typically contracted for 30 days to periods of over a year to deliver services including:
- Social and moral support as you readjust to life
- Social responsibility to avoid or abstain from drugs and alcohol
- Counseling (often not professional) or “someone to talk to”
- Coaching or skills training, especially for items of exercise, daily habits, cooking, etc.
In most cases, the sober companion is there to be just that, a companion. They are there to talk to you, provide support, and offer non-judgmental and sometimes medically validated advice and information as you work your way through your first days back at home and your life. They may or may not have any medical or psychological qualifications as caretakers. What this fully entails will heavily depend on the organization you hire, the type of sober companion you hire, and the individual.
Types of Sober Companions
Most sober companions deliver services based on level of interaction, with “live in” being the highest and “on call” being the lightest. Individuals seeking out a sober companion can choose based on budget, required or desired level of support, and personal space and privacy concerns.
Live-In – Live-in sober companions move into your home and live with you for a designated period, typically 30-90 days. During this period, your sober companion will function as an assistant, offering support and reassurance, ensuring there are no substances in your home, holding you accountable for substance use, and holding you accountable for time.
Escort – Your sober companion shows up when you leave your home, typically to escort you to work or school, and will function as an escort when you go out. This gives you opportunity to talk, to discuss triggers, to have frequent checkups, and to have accountability on a near-daily basis, but with less interaction and more personal privacy. Your escort will also function to actively prevent you from buying drugs or alcohol if you feel you lack self-control to do so.
On-Demand – On-demand or on-call sober companions are available via phone and will typically answer calls at any time of day. In most cases, they will also show up to discuss problems, cravings, or triggers in person on-demand, but won’t otherwise actively come to check up on you except of ra few pre-scheduled times. This “lighter” approach to sober companions means that you get more space and more privacy, while still benefiting from support, someone to talk to, and constant social accountability.
You should choose a sober companion based on personal needs, insurance support, and requirements for space or privacy.
Be Brave. Get Help.
What Does a Sober Companion Do?
At different levels, sober companions may provide services including:
- Licensed counseling,
- 12-Step based support
- Nutrition programs
- Exercise and personal fitness training
- Home care (cleaning, laundry, etc.)
- Meditation or other mindfulness practices
- Structured daily plans such as wakeup times and planned activities
- Escort you to and from work
- Escort you to gatherings and events, typically in the guise of “a friend”
- Offer emotional support
- Offer accountability and checkups
Sober companions primarily function to hold you accountable, which is shown to heavily improve recovery outcomes. They are also physically present to notice if you slip up, even if you appear to be doing less well during a phone call or less well during a weekly checkup. Sober companions get to know you very well over the course of their contract with you, meaning they will notice when something goes wrong and will attempt to get you back into treatment if it does.
Is a Sober Companion the Right Option?
Sober companions offer fairly intensive support, but do you need it? And, do you need support from an individual all the time, or just on occasion? If you’re considering a sober companion, it’s important to assess your needs, your social support network, and insurance. You may want to look into a sober companion if:
- You will be mostly isolated for long periods after leaving rehab
- You have a history of relapse following rehab
- You don’t trust yourself to stay clean or sober
- Your job, home, or school environment are significant contributors to substance abuse
- You have a mental illness or physical disability which could put you at greater risk for relapse
- You have a poor social support network, or many people in your social network and family use drugs or alcohol
Importantly, there are no existing medical standards for sober companions. This means that organizations can offer significantly different services from practitioners with different qualifications while using the same title. If you choose to hire a sober companion, it’s crucial to ask information about licensing, qualifications, services offered, insurance support, and alternatives. You also likely want to meet with people in advance, because it’s important that you get along with anyone you intend to spend more than a month with.
Sober companions are not a quick fix to preventing relapse after leaving recovery. They also don’t remove the need for you to put significant and intensive ongoing work into self-improvement, behavioral therapy, and personal development. It’s critical that you view your sobor companion as temporary support, an individual who will hold you accountable and will help you to build the basis to do so on your own. Once you do so, and once you build a stronger social network you can lean on for many of the same services, you will no longer need your sober companion.
If you’re leaving rehab, a sober companion may be an important part of your aftercare. If you think it might help, discuss your options and your needs with your doctor and your treatment providers before making a decision.
Good luck with your recovery journey.