The Power of Shared Housing in Curbing Addiction

Oxford Houses: Shared Housing Taken to the Next Level

by: Jennifer Logan
Photo/Stock Exchange
Photo/Stock Exchange

Oxford Houses are democratic, communal homes for recovering substance abuse addicts. There are over 1,000 of these dwellings across the USA, each of which is run by its residents. Dwellers share all expenses and hold weekly meetings to discuss any issue which are relevant to the group. There is no maximum length of stay. To be admitted into an Oxford House, potential residents have to be approved by 80% of current dwellers. Every six months, a meeting is held to declare officers responsible for tasks like rent collection, etc. An Oxford House requires a minimum of six residents to sufficiently meet its costs.

One of the most important differences between Oxford Houses and traditional outpatient/ hospital settings is the absence of trained professionals or therapeutic committees in the former. It is up to the dwellers to decide whether or not they wish to seek professional help or to follow a 12-step programe.

Interesting Findings: Communal House Settings Enhance Substance Abuse Recovery

An important study published in the American Journal of Public Health tracked 150 individuals who were randomly assigned to either an Oxford House or a traditional recovery treatment (i.e. outpatient treatment/ self-help group meetings) over a 24-month period. Results revealed that living in a shared housing setting bestowed positive results. These included a lower substance abuse rate (31.3% for the Oxford Housing Group vs 64.8% for the ‘traditional treatment’ group); a higher monthly income for Oxford House residents ($989.40 vs $440), and a lower rate of imprisonment (3% vs 9%).

Why is Communal Living So Conducive to Recovery from Addiction?

The study postulates many reasons why shared housing can be so helpful for recovering addicts. We present some of the factors mentioned and postulate a few of our own:

  • Shared Housing Fosters a Sense of Independence: Since expenses are shared by the residents themselves, the latter are strongly encouraged to seek and maintain employment. For many recovering addicts, this may be their first job and also the first time that they encounter the confidence which ensues from carrying out tasks consistently and responsibly.

  • Shared Housing Enhances a Recovering Addict’s Decision-Making Powers: Since dwellers are not forced to follow a particular treatment program, the sense of freedom to choose their own path is liberating.

  • Bonding is Beautiful: For any recovering addict, the sense of not being alone and forming positive new bonds of trust and love with others can be key to a full recovery.

  • Recovery Has No Expiry Date: One of the biggest problems for recovering addicts of all types is when they are forced to return to high-risk environments after successfully completing a rehab program. Oxford Houses and other shared house settings provide a welcome escape from high-pressure areas, reducing the rate of relapse. Location is particularly relevant in states plagued by drug problems. Utah, for instance, which has a higher-than-average rate of drug-induced deaths, has been in the news recently for a series of drug-related shootings, robberies and police misconduct. While it is true that the government has made its best attempts to curb the spiraling drug situation and that alcohol and drug abuse centers in Utah offer a wide range of reputable programs for those seeking to escape from the clutches of addiction, addicts should not be subject to the temptation or pressures of a drug-fueled neighborhood once rehab is over. Shared housing provides a new, more conducive environment in which to heal.

  • Shared Housing Encourages a Spirit of Community: According to an Oxford House survey conducted on 56 individuals, Oxford House dwellers were extremely active in their communities. Some 56% were involved in educating the community about Oxford Housing, while 36% were involved in community education on recovery from addiction. Moreover, over 60% were involved in mentoring other recovering addicts.

  • Shared Housing Reinforces Optimism: Shared housing has been found to lead to higher levels of optimism with respect to an addict’s belief in his/her ability to stay off drugs.

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