The Real Rules No One Tells You: The Awful Truth About Oxford Houses (Part 4)

Quillen Culler
3 min readNov 13, 2020


Ok, so they don’t really look this awful. But they’re definitely not as “upscale” as promised.

Part 3, Part 2, Part 1

Why did you find it necessary to write about this?

Because I have yet to find a site that addresses the serious issues that have plagued many of the houses, and their rules and guidelines that were established in the 1970s are still enforced as such and create more problems than they solve. But mostly it is because recovery is far too precarious a time for people to be thrown into the deep end with no warning. Lives really can be at stake.

What are their rules then?

The official OH site and state-specific sites provide information on the basic rules and application process. A quick online search will lead you right to them. Depending on how often each house updates their vacancies, you can find one that might accept you pretty quickly. This is the easy part.

Ok, so what’s the great big steaming, gigantic problem then?

Well, to start, many newly clean/sober addicts/alcoholics end up going into these environments completely in the dark. They have no idea what kind of people they will meet and potentially be living with. Sex offenders are not allowed to live in Oxford Houses, but there is no verification of who is one and who is not. The same goes for any other criminal history. Applicants are asked these things in the interview, but it would be easy to lie, and no one would know the difference. They don’t require any identification and perform no background checks. No references are required either. What I believe affected my own experience the most negatively was that they also do not screen for personality disorders. With the ever-increasing awareness of the destructive nature and actions of people who have such disorders (mostly undiagnosed), this is inexcusable.

This sounds pretty bad. What else?

An example of the severely outdated thinking that keeps the 1970s rules in place is the requirement that residents must leave the house for an average of 6 hours during the day, Monday thru Friday, to “find a job.” The world does not work this way anymore, and almost all jobs require you to apply online, and just showing up to “ask if they’re hiring” is futile. You will still be told to “apply online — we don’t have paper applications.” Even if you arrive at an Oxford House with your own computer, you will still be forced to leave during the day to go to the library or somewhere else to fill in any applications.

Many houses have a computer that members are able to use, so the need to leave each day to perform actions that can be done at home at no cost is ludicrous. Many members do not have their own transportation, so this requirement to leave each day costs money, either in bus fare or rideshare trips. Money is a precious commodity already, and for someone who has likely lost everything due to their addiction, this adds an additional, and unnecessary, hardship. Not to mention that a newly sober person in recovery having to kill several hours of time with no supervision is a recipe for relapse, especially if one is told to leave the house “on foot” and to stay gone.

But the “rules” still demand it, and it does no one any good.

So why write about this now if they’ve been around for more than 40 years? They claim to have an 80% success rate.

That “success rate” is based on self-reported information. There is no verification, no scientifically-based research, and no long-term follow-up of residents. Someone from an Oxford House gets interviewed, and the same, recycled information gets repeated often enough that it becomes the truth to the people saying it.

My most pressing reason for starting this whole endeavor is that I believe that apathy can kill almost as easily as direct action, and given the staggering level of apathy (not to mention contempt) toward alcoholics and addicts in recovery, I can’t help but wonder how much more despair and death must happen before the people of Oxford House make any measurable changes to their guidelines. Their old rules no longer apply, and allowing such a vulnerable population to “self govern” into ruin is criminal. It is time to do better.



Quillen Culler