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A sober companion or sober coach provides one-on-one assistance to newly recovering drug addicts and alcoholics. The goal is to help the client maintain total abstinence from alcohol and drugs, and to establish healthy routines outside of a residential treatment facility. Controversy exists between sober companions, not only in their name (sober companion vs. sober coach vs. recovery coach), but over the use of any situation placing them in contact with other enablers. Also, some sober companions strongly agree with 12 step programs; other sober companions do not support the 12 step process and use alternative methods.
One key difference between a sober companion and a sober coach, is that a sober coach is a direct descendant of the Alcoholics Anonymous "sponsor", a significant difference being that the sober coaching is done for payment while a sponsor works for free as the practice of the 12th step, carrying the message of recovery.
The primary duty of a sober coach is to ensure the recovering addict does not relapse. They may be hired to provide round the clock care, be on-call, or to accompany the recovering addict during particular activities.
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. Many companions use techniques such as chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, meditation, distraction, massage, diet and proper nutrition, exercise and even prayer and affirmation of sober choices. A sober companion either completely removes the addict from his own environment of hidden stashes, or may search for hidden drugs in their own environment, in an effort to restrain a client to prevent them from relapsing.
Sober companion treatment usually lasts for 30 days – often, much longer. The time required to effect a meaningful change varies greatly depending upon the client, his co-occurring disorders, and the family life at home. Ideally, a companion's presence in the client's life will decrease as the client's ability to confront family, work, and legal issues without relapse is proven. Some providers stay with their clients for many months, and some offer only transportation services (for instance, to and from treatment facilities or sober living homes). The sober companion's duties encompass a wide variety, from simply ensuring the client remains abstinent to serving as a resource broker in the client's home community.
Sober companions are sometimes used in cases where an actor or musician will not attend treatment, but must remain abstinent to complete a film or recording project. They are also depicted by some media outlets as "adult babysitters" for actors, musicians, and other celebrities.
There has been controversy between sober companions over the use of drug replacement therapy, the use of prescription drugs to ease withdrawal, cravings or other side effects of long term narcotic and alcohol use. Sober Companions are sometimes used as a replacement for residential addiction treatment or other forms of drug rehabilitation. Doug Caine, founder of Sober Champion, and Dr. Ronald J. Hunsicker, FACATA, National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers president and chief executive officer, introduced an alternative perspective in mental health and addiction treatment programs. It was recommend that a combined approach be taken, particularly for people at high risk of relapse. Hunsicker's, speech on “The Challenges for Implementing Evidence- Based Practices in Addiction Treatment" suggested that companions can help a patient successfully transition from a heavily structured, secure environment into the world where he previously failed to stay sober. Other experts are skeptical of the companion approach and its dependence on a single individual.
There are growing recovery associations (Sober.com, crossroadscoaching.com, RCI.org, ICF.org, OASAS.org, Addiction-Rehab-Reviews.org) and boards established to set standards or monitor the state of the field recovery coaching, that overlap some of the roles of a sober companion. There is no formal sober companion oversight and accountability as yet. Since early in 2011, Faces and Voices in Recovery has been working on developing standards, credentialing and more clearly defined roles of a recovery coach, peer support specialist, and a sober companion. One can see why there is a concern according to the California Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, as it is a process that is just underway.
When dealing health services providers such as sober companions and other recovery providers which, are not formally overseen by a governing body, an effective and practical alternative measure of quality can be drawn from forums offering unbiased consumer reviews. The 2012 launch of ATRI marked the addiction treatment industry's first professionally moderated, no-cost online resource dedicated to unbiased reviews, testimonials and complaints within all facets of recovery, including sober companion & recovery coaching providers.
In keeping with several other forms of drug rehabilitation, some sober companions have no formal training or qualification. Most (but not all) companions are recovering addicts who have themselves been able to maintain multiple years of sobriety. While some companions will have some training in psychology, sociology, or medicine, in addition to a strong personal program of recovery, some may have taken the Recovery Coaching certifications offered by Recovery Coaching International (recoverycoaches.org) or the very inexpensive (sometimes free) training offered by the Connecticut Center for Addiction Recovery (CCAR.org) training in a model for peer recovery support specialist roles and responsibilities. A few independent providers, such as Sober Champion require literature study and in-person training by an experienced professional.
The Sociotherapy Association certifies and trains Support Companions, Recovery/Sober Companions, Elderly Companions, and Adolescent Companions. The Sociotherapy Association in America created the Support Companions program to offer real support and relationship to those in need.
- Mireya Navarro, "A Companion to Protect Addicts From Themselves", New York Times, April 17, 2007. Retrieved October 13, 2007.
- Colleen Mastony, "What's a 'sober companion'?", Chicago Tribune September 18, 2007. Retrieved October 13, 2007.
- Jeannie Park and Robin Miell, People Magazine. January 29, 1990. V. 33 No 4. Accessed August 15, 2008.
- Mireya Navarro, "A Companion to Protect Addicts From Themselves". NYTimes.com. April 15, 2007. NYTimes Company NYC. Accessed August 18, 2008.
- Hollywood Rag, "Britney in Divorce Court". On Line Entertainment News. Accessed September 13, 2008.
- Soden, Blair 2007, "Owen Wilson's Sober Buddy May Help Him Snap Back". ABC News Online. September 17, 2007. Accessed Sept 13, 2008.
- "The Challenges for Implementing Evidence-Based Practices in Addiction Treatment". Speech by Dr. Ronald J. Hunsicker, FACATA, National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers president and chief executive officer. Accessed Oct 3, 2011.