You may often hear the terms “sober living” and “halfway house” used interchangeably. However, there are some important differences between the two terms. This article is written with the purpose to allow readers to understand the major differences between sober living and halfway houses.
Halfway houses have a long history in the realm of addiction and alcohol recovery. But, the first halfway houses were not specific to recovery. In fact, the idea of halfway houses, which originated in America in the mid 1800’s, was created to integrate prisoners, not people in recovery, into society.
The first known halfway house was created in 1864 as the “Temporary Asylum for Discharged Female Prisoners”. This initial house was obviously for female prisoners who needed a place to learn how to live, how to adapt to society, and what to do with their lives next.
Halfway Houses Change
After a few decades, the idea of halfway houses began to change. In 1896 the co-founder of Volunteers for America opened the first private halfway house in New York. This home, called the “Hope Hall No. 1”, was met with phenomenal success. By 1902, the second home, called “Hope Hall No. 2”, was thriving. Thousands of reformed prisoners gained a new outlook on life thanks to the Hope Halls. 
Between 1930 and 1950, the success of halfway houses took a dramatic turn. Because of the great depression, strict rules on parolees, and the mandatory requirement of prisoners having a job upon release, halfway houses began to decline. However, thanks to the “national movement of halfway houses” in the 1950s, halfway houses quickly began to gain steam.
Halfway Houses Today
Today, halfway houses are still used by state correctional systems. Millions of parolees have benefited from the structure, group elements, and fundamental aspects of halfway houses. Beyond the correctional facilities, a few private companies began operating halfway houses. This is where the term sober living became prevalent.
Sober Living Homes
Sober living homes became popular by establishing homes to specifically help those who were struggling with addiction and alcoholism. Sober living homes were created by people in recovery, who saw the need for adequate housing for people in recovery.
In the 1960s, treatment for addiction started to change. Instead of state institutions, community-based care became popular when psychiatric populations were no longer institutionalized. The need for housing for those in recovery was then addressed on a community level.
The Sober Living Movement
The Sober Living Home movement in California, which started in the 1970s, played a major role in growing the application of sober living homes. Instead of using a specific treatment model that viewed addiction as “completed” after a quick stay at an inpatient program, the movement emerged as a way to have long-term recovery in the real world.
Sober Living Today
Today, there are thousands of sober living companies. From basic sober living models, that have live-in managers, fully furnished houses, daily meetings, and drug testing, to highly structured, clinically focused homes. There is no shortage of sober living homes in most areas of the United States.
The Main Differences
In closing, the major differences between the terms “Halfway Houses” and “Sober Living Homes” are as follows:
- Most halfway houses are state-funded and inhabited by parolees.
- Typically, halfway houses are not specific to addiction or alcoholism
- Halfway houses are usually less expensive or free to the consumer.
- Sober living homes are specific to addiction and alcoholism.
- The majority of sober living homes are owned privately and have private costs.
- Staff lives inside the house in most sober living homes.
As you have read, there are fundamental differences in the terms “Halfway Houses” and “Sober Living Homes”. Basically, halfway houses are for parolees, who need to integrate into society after leaving prison. Sober living homes are for the general public, who are struggling with addiction or alcoholism and need to find a structured environment to obtain long term recovery.