Having a sponsor isn’t a necessary element of 12-step groups, but having a mentor to guide the process can help facilitate movement through the steps and maintain sobriety.
- Having an AA sponsor is not required, but it is very advantageous.
- Sponsors are people in recovery who offer mentorship to facilitate recovery.
- By engaging with a sponsor, the person in recovery gains access to support and accountability, which would be hard to get elsewhere.
- Not all people will match with all sponsors, so some patience and flexibility is needed.
Working through alcohol addiction is never easy, especially when combating it alone. The hold that alcohol can have on a person is so strong that it is extremely difficult to overcome alcoholism without any outside help. That is exactly why treatment programs and fellowship groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) were formed.
Such groups are designed to help people battling an alcohol addiction by providing them with the support and guidance needed to stay strong in their sobriety. Since 1939, AA has helped millions of people recover from alcohol addiction.
Available throughout the country, AA meetings comfort people suffering from alcohol use disorder by surrounding them with peers going through the same thing. Whether they are newly sober or have already been on the journey to sobriety for a long time, people dealing with addiction to alcohol can find AA helpful when it comes to staying on a sober path.
One of the integral parts of AA is sponsorship. The idea behind having a sponsor in AA is to help those recovering from alcohol misuse have someone to keep them accountable and to offer support and guidance throughout the journey. While it is certainly possible to stay sober without a sponsor, having one along the way can make the process more successful.
What Is an AA Sponsor?
Sponsors and sponsored people in AA work as equals to address risks to sobriety and maintain recovery. An AA sponsor shares their experiences, knowledge and previous mistakes with their peers in an effort to boost their success.
Often, sponsors are people who have managed to maintain long-term sobriety, but sometimes, they only have a short amount of time in recovery. There are no requirements regarding who can and cannot be a sponsor. All the person needs is life experience and a desire to help others “live sober.”
- Be available for phone calls and other forms of communication
- Attend meetings with their sponsored person
- Social with their peer and invite them to recovery and non-recovery-focused outings
- Offer connections to professional and non-professional recovery services
- Encourage honesty, openness and sobriety
How Are Sponsors Chosen?
As with most elements of AA, choosing a sponsor is a very informal and easy process. Finding a sponsor and forming a relationship requires no specific formula or system.
Typically, the newcomer seeks out a person who seems compatible with their personality, sensibilities and passion for recovery. Once they identify this individual, the newcomer simply asks the person to become their sponsor. Rather than being bothered or annoyed by this request, many members are grateful and humbled to be asked the question, as becoming a sponsor is something of an honor.
Sponsors can be either male or female, but there seems to be some direction away from people to whom one could be romantically attracted. For this reason, straight individuals are encouraged to stick with sponsors from the same sex, while people who are gay find opposite-sex sponsors a better fit.
Since there are no firm rules or structures in place, it may take some trial and error to arrive upon a great fit.
Why Have a Sponsor in AA?
Findings show that people who acquire a sponsor early in the recovery process enjoy longer periods of abstinence. Studies on the impact of sponsors suggest:
- People with sponsors at three months into recovery were three times more likely to be abstinent at six months than those without a sponsor.
- People with sponsors at three months reported 21% more abstinent days during a 90-day period.
- 52% of people with a sponsor reported abstinence at one year, compared to less than 33% of people without a sponsor.
In addition to abstinence, there are plenty of benefits to having an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor:
- Shared experiences: Sponsors can share their past experiences with alcohol misuse and help others feel they are not alone.
- Offer hope: Since sponsors are sober and have been for a while, they can help others see that sobriety is possible and beating addiction can be a reality.
- Offer sympathy and compassion: Sponsors can simply lend an ear and offer a hand of support, particularly during darker times throughout recovery.
- Hold others accountable: Since a sponsor regularly checks in with others in AA, there is a sense of accountability involved, which can help those suffering from alcohol use disorder stay on the path to sobriety.
- Provide resources: There are all sorts of Colorado recovery resources that are available to those in addiction recovery, and sponsors can point them out to others in AA.
- Provide motivation: There will always be valleys that people with alcohol use disorder will endure, and sponsors can help motivate others to continue moving forward.
- Avoid relapse: Sometimes, the cravings for alcohol can be too great, which can lead to a recurrence of alcohol use. Sponsors can help others avoid that by offering suggestions to stick to a sober life.
- Make a long-term friend: Many sponsors end up becoming close friends with the people they’re sponsoring, which is a priceless gift to get from AA.
Is a Sponsor Necessary?
While there are certainly many theories as to why an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor can be of great help, some may wonder if they are really necessary. Although choosing a sponsor is not mandatory, studies suggest that sponsors can increase the chances of success in recovery.
Results from several studies conducted over the years continue to show that having a 12-step sponsor is associated with better outcomes than not having one. The benefits of an AA sponsor/sponsee relationship are numerous for those going through alcohol addiction.
If you are not yet in recovery and are in need of addiction treatment, it is best to start by detoxing safely in a medically supervised setting, followed by entering into a formal addiction treatment program that will provide you with tools you need to be successful in achieving and maintaining sobriety. This can include attendance at AA meetings and possible work with a sponsor.
How To Find an AA Sponsor
Finding a sponsor may seem like an intimidating or confusing process, but it does not have to be. Often, a person can find a sponsor through the connections formed before, during and after their frequent AA meetings.
These periods of time offer tremendous opportunities for fellowship and building new connections with people dedicated to recovery. They can also serve as wonderful chances to perform informal interviews of potential sponsor candidates, as one can learn the person’s:
- Views on recovery
- Duration of abstinence
- Methods of recovery
- Experience as a sponsor
- Level of socialization and connection to people in the program
- Life situations and stressors
Based on this information, a person can decide if the sponsor would meet their needs. When someone is attending online meetings or multiple meetings during the week, the process can change.
If meetings are not attended in person, finding a sponsor can be more challenging, so the person may have to be more direct, outgoing and intentional with their goal. Rather than using time before or after an AA meeting, the person may need to bring the topic of sponsorship up during the meeting to stir the conversation in that direction. Group members can address the topic then or pause the conversation until after the group concludes.
If it seems like you are struggling to find a sponsor, do not give up on the process. While you continue your journey, consider utilizing other AA members to gain support. They may be able to help with recovery and point you in the direction of available sponsors.
How To Choose an AA Sponsor
Choosing an AA sponsor is never going to be an exact science. The process takes some amount of guesswork and trial and error. No one has to find their ideal match right away, so allow for differing levels of success.
Like any relationship, people should think about who they would be compatible with, what they value in a sponsor, and how they would like to approach recovery. A frequently overlooked factor is the notion of choosing the type of sponsor one needs, rather than the one they want. The needed sponsor may make recovery uncomfortable and challenging at times, but this discomfort may lead to more significant benefits in the long run. When recovery is too comfortable, it may not last.
Some of the best qualities to look for in your sponsor include:
- Duration of recovery: Some may think that longer periods of recovery lead to a more knowledgeable sponsor, while others may believe someone with less clean time can better relate to their needs and wants. Consider both options.
- Approach to recovery: The 12-step process tends to clearly spell out the method to recovery, but some sponsors may stretch and bend the rules more than others. Find one that challenges you to be better while approaching recovery in a practical way.
- Availability: The best sponsors are there when you need them. Assess your sponsor’s availability to answer questions, phone calls, texts and emails. Feeling alone, especially during early recovery, can feel isolating.
- Sexual attraction: There is no better way to sabotage recovery than by choosing a sponsor you are sexually attracted to. Focus on platonic, social or business-like relationships.
- Authenticity: Is the sponsor a real, genuine person, or do they seem to only be talking a good game? Finding an authentic sponsor can help recovery seem much more possible.
- Flexibility: Some sponsors may seem as rigid as a drill instructor or as loose as a preschool teacher. Think about which amount of flexibility is in your best interest and which will help the most with recovery.
Sponsors are not necessary, but they are very helpful. If you or a loved one is interested in finding a sponsor or starting the recovery process, contact The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake. The experts at our Palmer Lake, Colorado facility can help with all stages of recovery to find the well-being people deserve.
Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. “Questions and Answers on Sponsorship.” June 2019. Accessed May 9, 2021.
Tonigan JS, Rice SL. “Is It Beneficial to have an Alcoholics Anonymous Sponsor?” Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. September 2010. Accessed May 9, 2021.
Alcoholics Anonymous Cleveland. “Sponsorship in the Age of Zoom and the Pandemic.” Accessed May 9, 2021.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: […]uide (Third Edition).” January 2018. Accessed May 9, 2021.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.” October 2015. Accessed May 9, 2021.
The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.