Also known as a sober escort, sober companions are usually individuals in long term recovery. They render individually tailored assistance to recovering addicts who need undivided attention in order to stay on track after substance abuse treatment or during outpatient rehabilitation. The major objective of such services is relapse prevention. Sober companion provide one-on-one assistance to newly recovering individuals. The goal is to help the client maintain total abstinence or harm reduction from any addiction, and to establish healthy routines at home or after checking out of a residential treatment facility. A sober companion may be a part of a whole medical and/or a clinical team of professional(s), may be formally licensed as a mental health professional, or have well-respected experiential experience in the field and may work independently on their own. A companion acts as an advocate for the newly recovering person and provides new ways for the client to act in their own living environment. Sober companions are sometimes hired in cases where someone will not attend treatment, but must remain abstinent to complete a project.
Why Do They Help?
The sober companion position is a relatively new one, so if you’ve never heard of people like this before, you’re certainly not alone. But don’t let the strangeness of the idea keep you away from examining it and considering for yourself. It could be the key you need in order to get well.
In a study published in the journal Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, researchers examined the factors that led people to relapse to cocaine even when they’d been sober for months or even years. Close to 500 people were included in this analysis, and researchers found that the most common reason for relapse was “impulsive action with no known cause.”
That means these people had worked on their addiction and achieved a level of control. Then, due to some factor they didn’t quite understand, they went back to the drug. They didn’t see the relapse coming early enough to stop it.
A sober companion can help, as this professional can see all of the little relapse warnings that might be hidden to you. A companion might notice that you mention alcohol more frequently when you’re hungry, for example, or a companion might spot the fact that you’re watching many movies that contain drug use, as though you’re rehearsing for a relapse. It’s easy to ignore these warnings, especially when they’re happening at a subconscious level, but a companion can provide an outsider’s perspective that could make the danger clear to you.
In a separate study that included women who were addicted to alcohol, published in the journal Addiction, researchers found that women tended to relapse in the company of friends of the same gender or while they were spending time with romantic partners. These social outings might have felt fun, but at some point, they took a bad turn. The friends might be users, as might the partner. And when those people use, you might be tempted to do the same.
A sober companion can provide friendship and an opportunity to be social, but these professionals aren’t at all interested in taking a drink, shooting up, or lighting up. They want their clients to stay sober, so they also stay sober. That could mean that they help clients to feel connected, while they remove some of the relapse dangers.
How It Works
While it might be easy to understand the help that a sober companion can provide, it can be a little difficult to understand how the industry works. That’s because, according to an analysis published in US News and World Report, the industry isn’t tightly regulated.
When you hire a mental health therapist, there are rules in place that help you both to define your relationship. That person is required to hold a specific medical degree, and you’re expected to pay a fee that’s set by the industry or by your insurance company. You may know of others who have used a therapist, so you have a general idea of how your appointments should work. And if something goes wrong, you can complain to your state’s medical board about the issue.
The sober companion industry is different. The field is new, so there haven’t been many studies on what is ideal and what should be avoided. There aren’t set rules on what sort of education is needed and what sort of experience people need. There aren’t even rules about how much these people should charge.
Not all sober companions are created equal. While some are strong proponents of traditional treatment methods — like 12-step programs and support groups — others prefer alternatives to such, like therapy and holistic healing. In many cases, these professionals provide services free of charge, but that trend seems to wearing off some in recent years as the popularity of sober companions and escorts keeps growing. In an analysis on The Daily Beast, reporters suggest that companions can cost as little as $900 per day or as much as $2500 per day. That’s a huge range, and it can be hard for you to know whether you’re charging too much or too little.
Sober escorts are often former and recovering addicts themselves. There is debate amongst the substance abuse community as to whether the use of sober companions is safe, noting the threat one recovering addict can impose upon another, but the concern is unfounded. For years, sponsors have served members of organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics
Anonymous — being recovered addicts themselves — without hindering the recovery of those they sponsor. Likewise, you certainly don’t have to be an addict to be an enabler.
Not all sober companions are utilized on a live-in basis. Some people only need the added protection from their addiction at certain times or when in places that may trigger their urge to use. For example, an addict who has completed a full course of detox and treatment might need help readjusting to their life at home. Perhaps they only need the boost of care a companion provides on the weekends when they are more inclined to drink now that their social life has to change. Others might need help on evenings that they don’t have support group meetings to pull them through. Then there are those who do need round-the-clock advocacy, like recovering addicts who must return home from inpatient treatment to a household where others are drinking and using drugs — something that is still highly unadvisable.
Sober companions can also assist you in making positive changes in your life. They can walk you through the many ways you can deal with triggers, aid in treating the symptoms of mental illness non-medically with coping mechanisms, encourage healthy relationships with others, and assist you in removing yourself from past relationships that may be toxic to your goal of sobriety.
Are Companions Effective Helpers?
There are definitely critics of the sober companion method, many of whom waste no time noting the lack of authority and supervision overseeing sober companion services. Some doubt the efficacy of having an addict rely on another individual so heavily, with many believing rehabilitation should instill a sense of self-reliance and ownership in addicts. There is room for concern that having a sober companion will merely limit the addict’s exposure to triggers, and that sheltering them from such creates a false perception of what their reality is truly like outside of treatment.
This leads one to question whether or not — after the companion’s departure — the addict is honestly any more prepared to abstain on their own than they were before the companion entered their life. One Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs review noted the treatment readmission rates among groups of alcoholics or drug addicts, those suffering from alcohol or drug psychoses, and addicts and/or psychoses sufferers with at least one mental health disorder, touting 57 to 70 percent of them being readmitted within the four years following treatment. Thus, are companions helping recovering addicts to stay in recovery permanently or just delaying relapse?
Length of Help
The decision to terminate the companionship period is generally a mutual decision made between both parties. The companion will regularly observe the recovering addict’s behavior, and look to see how well the addict handles stress, confrontation, emotional upset, change, and more before broaching the subject of ending the arrangement. Companions want to make sure you are ready to tackle life’s toughest problems without returning to substance abuse before they leave you to your own means. It might take longer to heal than you might think.
When you emerge from treatment, you might be filled with a sense of hope and empowerment. You might feel as though you can handle almost any challenge that life can throw at you, and that your new set of habits will help you to stay clean for good. But sometimes, there are small landmines lurking in your life. It might be the wine aisle in the grocery store, the unexpected call from an old boyfriend, or a twisted ankle. Problems big and small could awaken your urges to use, and sometimes, a companion can be a great ally in helping you to deal with those issues carefully.
In the past, researchers thought that it took about 21 days to form a new habit. That would mean that you’d only need a companion for a few weeks. But as a writer for U.S. News and World Report points out, addiction habits can last much longer. This writer was a smoker for many years, and even with 20 years of no smoking, he still sometimes feels the need for a puff. Old habits like that can be sticky.
It doesn’t mean that you’ll need a companion for 20 years, of course, but it might mean that you need to work with someone like this for an extended period, riding out a few crises until you know just how to do it yourself. Or you might be a fast learner that doesn’t need such extensive assistance. It’s personal, and your companion will work with you to develop the best schedule.