Sober companions, also called sober coaches, are becoming increasingly popular in the United States. What do they do and is a sober companion the right choice for you?
Sober companions are individuals in recovery who assist someone struggling with addiction who is trying to get or stay sober. Sober companions are mentors or guides. They are not a friend, therapist, or 12-step program sponsor. They are not personal assistants, doing the client’s bidding. The main role of a sober companion is to encourage clients to make healthy choices, doing so by example. Jobs may last anywhere from a few hours to a year or more.
Almost all sober companions will work with any abstinence-based recovery model: 12-step, Refuge Recovery, SMART Recovery, etc. Most sober companions will work with a harm reduction model, if that’s what a client chooses.
Sober companions may do a variety of jobs. “Transport” is helping to get a person to rehab. Those suffering from addiction are frequently afraid to go to treatment and may need help getting safely to a treatment center. Often transport jobs require the companion to drive a long distance to a treatment facility with a client, if the client has no ID and cannot get on a plane. Some transport jobs require a nurse to give medication to a client, in addition to a sober companion.
Though transport jobs are common, most sober companions are hired to stay with an individual after they have finished a residential treatment program. A sober companion might help with the “transition” from treatment to home. In these jobs, sober companions may live with the client in their home or do 12-hour shifts (8am – 8pm, for example), to help an individual learn how to live a sober life in their community. These jobs usually start with a full sweep of the home, to remove any drugs or alcohol from the residence. Then, the client’s day is structured around all the activities that need to be accomplished – from grocery shopping and exercise to work and sober support that might include: psychotherapy, outpatient programming, or 12-step meetings. These jobs vary in length, but two weeks to a month is common.
Another short-term sober companion job has the sober companion travel with an individual for a particular event, such as a family reunion or a business meeting. These kinds of stressful events can cause relapse for individuals new in recovery. A sober companion helps an individual remain grounded and sobriety focused during the event and provides emotional support and encouragement in the high stress situation.
Other sober companions support people who are not in a position to go to treatment for addiction or mental health problems. These tend to be longer term assignments where companions will live-in or travel with a client for months or a year. Clients who choose this service might be on tour with a band, on location shooting a TV show for film, or living in a remote area where there is little support for a sober lifestyle. In these cases, the sober companion will generally work as part of a team, consulting with psychiatrists, addiction medicine physicians, psychotherapists, and others to help an individual maintain a focus on recovery.
Finding a sober companion is no more difficult than a web search. There are many sober companion companies to choose from. Though many sober companion companies are west coast based, most companions work nationally or internationally, wherever their clients need them. Treatment facilities, addiction medicine physicians, or psychiatrists often recommend companies or individuals they have worked with in the past.
Sober companion services are unregulated. There is no minimum sobriety or training requirement for companions in the USA. Sober companions can free-lance, though most are available to several placement agencies. Most reputable sober companion companies require that companions have a minimum of five years sobriety and a solid reputation for being unflappable in difficult circumstances. Liability insurance, CPR/First Aid certification, and a clean TB test are also common for sober companions. Because of the opioid overdose epidemic, many sober companions know how to use and carry naloxone, the overdose reversal drug.
Sober companion companies provide an extra layer of support and protection for the consumer. Though their services will cost more than hiring a companion directly, companion companies vet and support their sober companions. They provide case management and maintain relationships with a network of medical professionals. Sober companion companies train, monitor, and support sober companions. They also make travel arrangements and do all the bookkeeping for their sober companions, so that the companion can place 100% of their attention on the client. Sober companion companies also do their best to ensure that the client and companion are a good match for one another, and when needed, will send a replacement if the first match is not a fit.
The cost of sober companion services depends on the demands of the job. At a minimum, services run about the same per day as a mid-cost residential treatment program, plus the companion’s travel or living expenses. Insurance does not pay for sober companion services.
People who hire sober companions see it as an investment in recovery. While a sober companion cannot guarantee sobriety, they can help a committed individual navigate the difficulties of transitioning home.
To learn more about sober companion services for transport, transition, or other assignments, ask your addiction treatment facility or a psychiatrist/psychotherapist specializing in addiction who they recommend. Again, this is an unregulated field, so do your due diligence. Find out as much as you can about the sober companion company you want to hire. Make sure everyone involved is trained and insured. Discuss the role of the companion to be sure that your expectations will be met. While a sober companion cannot make a person get or stay sober, they can provide an important service to guide and support someone who’s new in recovery and needs assistance to navigate the world, clean.