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Keeping strict house rules

July 18, 2013
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Click to view image of men's sober home

In the largely unregulated sober home community, a highly variable component of service involves the degree to which recovery residences integrate regular drug testing into their programming. At Rock Solid Recovery in Orange County, Calif., residents of a sober house that has been in operation since the spring know before they even move in that they will be subject to regularly scheduled and random urinalysis as well as daily alcohol testing, and the home’s staff reports little resistance from residents.

“We say that for those who might be opposed to being tested, this home may not be a good fit for them,” says Richi Chapman, a case manager at Rock Solid Recovery. Chapman is the sober living operator of the organization’s men’s sober home known as Olympic House.

Adds Tim Doyle, community director for Solid Landings Behavioral Health, a new umbrella organization for Rock Solid Recovery and a corresponding women’s service entity called Sure Haven, “The regular testing can definitely be a selling point, especially for parents.” (The sober home’s target population is young men in the 18-to-35 age range.) “We also hear some of the individuals in the house say, ‘I’m here because I know I’m being held accountable.’”

House’s protocols

Chapman explains that in order to ensure resident accountability and to maintain a safe and sober environment in its recovery residence program, Rock Solid Recovery schedules drug testing of its sober home residents every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. “We also do random testing at will,” he adds. The house conducts tests for both illegal drug use and alcohol use, the latter through nightly breath testing.

Doyle says the organization works with Millennium Laboratories as its confirming laboratory for drug test results. It will not decide on a course of action regarding a tested patient until test results that are generated on-site have been confirmed by the outside party, he says.

In responding to a positive drug test from a resident, Rock Solid Recovery tries to act in both a firm and compassionate manner at the same time. Chapman says that in the sober living environment, a positive drug test does disqualify an individual from being able to keep his sober home bed, but the program seeks not to lose contact with the individual—who is eligible to return to the recovery residence environment after a period of at least 30 days.

“We definitely want to provide support to the client in their journey of recovery,” says Doyle. “Just kicking out the client to the street because of a dirty UA is not conducive to the person’s recovery.”

A typical scenario might unfold this way, Chapman explains. A resident who has tested positive will be given the opportunity to process the events in and around the using experience. The program staff seeks not to take a confrontational, punitive approach, although the positive test ultimately does mean that the individual will have to move to a more intensive level of care (in a good number of cases, this would be a non-medical detox) before being able to return to the sober living environment.

“We don’t condemn them, or shame them,” says Chapman. “We have relationships with a number of primary care providers, and we seek to refer them to a safe environment.”

The decisiveness of Rock Solid Recovery’s actions in these circumstances stands in contrast to policies in some sober homes where an individual who has experienced a slip might be able to return to the home after just a few days of detox care, say Chapman and Doyle. This organization’s approach also differs from that of recovery residence operators that sever all ties with a resident after a positive drug test, with no opportunity for a return.

Emphasis on structure

Where some sober homes will drug test only in circumstances such as a resident’s return from a period of time away from the home, Rock Solid Recovery’s approach emphasizes structure. Knowing the ground rules going in removes the possibility of drama and manipulation arising among residents, Chapman indicates.

“Everyone knows that everyone else is getting tested,” he says. “They can’t keep secrets.”

The 12-bed, 2,300-square-foot Olympic House is a transitional housing option that requires a minimum 30-day stay but where residents might remain as long as a year. The schedule includes weekly house meetings and daily chores. While the program does not require residents to be out of the house during daily business hours, many are engaged in work, job search activity or outpatient treatment during the day. A live-in house manager supervises the activity at the residence.

The program also features a detailed interview and application process for admission. “The people who are here want to be here,” Doyle says. A similar sober living residence on the women’s side of the organization opened in July.

Rock Solid Recovery operates the residence in keeping with a mission that states that it is “committed to helping our clients achieve and sustain sobriety by fostering enthusiasm in life and recovery.”