Addiction Recovery - Relationships in Recovery

When Sober Living Isn’t Possible: Recovering with Roommates Not in Recovery

One of the most important parts of recovery is sober living. What happens when it’s not possible? This could mean living with a person who isn't sober

When Sober Living Isn’t Possible: Recovering With Roommates Not In Recovery

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

August 19, 2021

The Edge Treatment Center

One of the most important parts of recovery is sober living. What happens when it’s not possible?

We’re not talking relapses. We’re talking about basic living arrangements. Housing’s expensive pretty much everywhere, and sometimes you might need a roommate to keep a roof over your head. In some cases, this could mean living with a person who doesn’t live a sober lifestyle.

A lot of Americans drink. In 2019, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported just over half of Americans as saying they drank alcohol during the past month. While that probably includes some heavy drinkers, most in that percentage likely aren’t.

Distinguishing Between Problematic Drinking and Normal Alcohol Use

Before we get too deep into this subject, let’s make one thing clear: do NOT share a living space with people who are binge or heavy drinkers, or who regularly abuse drugs. This is a surefire path to relapse, and you don’t need it – you’ve likely already made a break with former friends who are still involved in substance abuse. Why undo that hard sacrifice?

Instead, we’re talking about a bigger, more subtle challenge: living with people who drink normally. They might take an occasional drink; they may enjoy a bottle of wine with a meal, keep a selection of beer in the refrigerator or use alcohol moderately in other ways. Not everybody who drinks has an alcohol use disorder.

Also, it’s fundamentally impossible to cut off all interaction with everyone who drinks. The bottom line is your recovery is your recovery. Other people can’t be expected to change their behaviors around yours.

Nevertheless, living with someone who drinks is a risk factor. Humans tend to imitate the behaviors of others and living with someone who is engaging in the type of behavior that unintentionally could tempt you back to your old ways is going to be difficult.

That said, here’s some useful advice:

Moving in with Friends? Make Sure They Understand

If you’re looking for a living arrangement with friends who aren’t in recovery, make sure they understand where you’re coming from. You’ve made a major life decision that fundamentally altered many things in your life. True friends will understand it – and respect it. If they don’t, well … maybe it’s time to reevaluate things.

And like we said, if you haven’t already cut ties with friends still engaged in substance abuse, now’s the time. Your recovery must come first.

You Probably Have More Resources than You Know

Like most people in recovery, you’re probably actively involved in it. You go to group meetings, 12 step groups, attend therapy at a rehab center, and so on. This is your support network, and it’s incredibly valuable. Why?

The people in your sober support network share your goals and understand what you’re doing. Some of them might even be searching for potential roommates. Having someone else walking with you in recovery is also a good way to make sure you’re both on the right path.

Your program can also be your sanctuary. Keep working at it; keep your sponsors, case managers, and treatment providers close. Talk to them if you feel you’re going to relapse; this is a world where people care deeply, and they might help you find a good, sober place to call home.

When Looking for a Roommate, Be Specific

The nice thing about services like Craigslist or Roommates.com is you’re able to be specific with what you want in a roommate. Make sure potential roomies understand how seriously you take recovery. Be open: explain that you’re in recovery and would prefer (or insist on) a roommate who didn’t drink or use drugs, or at minimum are willing to drink outside of the home.

If you’re able to, take your time and be patient with your search. It’ll pay off.

Boundaries: Live by Them

If you’re not able to find a roommate who’s completely sober, your path might get a little more challenging. In this case, it’s best if you establish boundaries right from the jump.

Share a refrigerator? Stake out a shelf or a particular section and insist no alcohol be placed there. Eat meals at the same table? Maybe consider eating at your own times if there’s an open bottle around. Politely ask that alcohol bottles and containers not be stored in common areas like living rooms or places where you might spend a lot of time.

It’s their space too, however, and if they’re relaxing with a drink in a common area, well … maybe consider spending more time away from them, or with sober friends outside of your home.

One last thing: your roommate is your roommate, full stop. They’re not your friend; you have no obligation to hang out with them, engage in long conversations or even share the same interests. You’re simply sharing a space to live for a while, that’s it.

If You Can, Keep Looking

You may be fortunate enough to be able to keep looking for a place to live. Wherever you live now is not necessarily a forever home; if things aren’t working out and you feel your roommate’s lifestyle is affecting you, it’s okay to keep looking for places to live.

Nothing about recovery is easy, especially when it comes to reintegrating yourself back into life. The pressures, distractions and temptations are many. But remember your resiliency – you’ve come a long way, survived much and are still here to talk about it. Be strong, work that program and stay on your journey.

The Edge Treatment Center stays in touch with many of our program’s graduates. Our evidence-backed methods help our clients heal in body, mind and soul while preparing them for the challenges of a life in recovery.

Looking for help or advice with your own recovery? Call us today.

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