Recovery May Be More Effective In Community Setting, Studies Suggest

By Paul Gaita 09/25/15

Studies have concluded that Oxford Houses have lower rates of substance abuse.

Oxford House in Mississipp
Oxford House in Mississippi. Photo via

Since 1991, Dr. Leonard A. Paul, a professor of psychology at DePaul University, has conducted research into the efficacy of the Oxford House Model of substance abuse treatment, which emphasizes a collaborative house setting with community rules and responsibilities for its residents.

His findings, which have been published in more than 100 articles, suggest that individuals seeking treatment at one of the more than 1,900 Oxford Houses across the United States, had significantly lower substance use rates than those who employed other models of treatment, including outpatient programs and self-help groups.

The Oxford House Model, which was established in Silver Springs, Maryland, in 1975, is a self-supporting, drug-free home that typically hosts between six and 15 residents. They employ no professional staff and do not advocate a single method of recovery; rather, residents must decide for themselves if they will seek help outside of the house through substance abuse treatment or 12-step program.

Residents pay all expenses and house decisions are made through a democratic process; there is also no limit to the amount of time they can stay at the house, barring any substance use or disruptive behavior.

According to the studies, the houses are most effective when they are located in safe neighborhoods with strong community connections, which, according to Jason, creates a “win-win situation” for both parties with neighborhoods benefiting from individuals in strong recovery and the residents receiving support from the community at large.

In the course of their two decades of studies, Paul and his research team examined the recovery rates for more than 2,000 Oxford House residents, and found that after 24 months, residents experienced far fewer incidents of relapse, as well as lower incarceration rates and higher monthly income than other treatment scenarios.

“Oxford House offers residents the freedom to decide which treatment they desire while receiving constant support and guidance within an abstinent communal setting,” said Jason. “It is a low-cost, safe and effective way to treat substance abuse in a collaborative housing setting.”

Jason and his team have been awarded a five-year grant of nearly $3 million from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to study the causes of relapse, as well as further analysis of the social structure within Oxford House to determine its impact on residents’ success rates.

Not all parties are convinced of Oxford House’s efficacy. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant recently asked his state’s Department of Health to end financial support to Oxford House, Inc., when residents expressed concern over child safety and plummeting property values after a house opened in Jackson.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.