If a person in recovery is taking part in a 12-step program, they are generally encouraged to find a sponsor. According to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a sponsor should

  • Be someone who has fought addiction 
  • Have been sober for a while, preferably at least a year 
  • Have made some progress through the program with their own sponsor
  • Be successfully applying the program to their daily life 
  • Generally seem happy to be sober 
  • Have enough time to regularly meet one on one with their sponsee 

Sponsorship is at the very core of traditional 12-step programs and has been at play since AA began. While attending recovery meetings allows a person who is fighting addiction to get support and ask questions of other people who are also in recovery, a sponsor can provide support between meetings. Sponsorship also strengthens the recovery of the sponsor, as sharing their knowledge and experiences with others reminds the sponsor of how far they have come and why they choose the path of sobriety.

What Does a Sponsor Do for Their Sponsee?

A sponsor:

  • Sets aside time regularly to meet with their sponsee one on one. 
  • Helps the person to understand and move through the 12 steps.
  • Is honest with the sponsee about difficult topics, such as signs of potential relapse they are noticing. 
  • Models sober living for their sponsee.
  • Encourages their sponsee to attend a variety of recovery meetings, knowing that each meeting has a different feel and may offer different perspectives.
  • Introduces the newcomer to other people in recovery.
  • Can provide a different perspective from the sponsee’s family, friends, substance abuse treatment team, or therapist because they have been through the same struggles and reached sustained sobriety. 

How Does Sponsorship Happen?

When a person arrives at step 12 of the AA or NA program, they may opt to complete “12th Step Call,” in which they reach out to someone who is struggling with addiction to invite them to a meeting. Often, this initiates a sponsor relationship. Other times, a newcomer to a recovery meeting may meet a long-time program participant and ask that person to be their sponsor. Or, a third party may help a sponsor and sponsee make a connection. Once a potential sponsor relationship is identified, the two people typically meet to discuss their expectations of the relationship. Each sponsee/sponsor partnership looks a bit different, so it is good to ensure both individuals are on the same page.

It is also highly recommended that a sponsee choose a sponsor for whom they do not feel any sexual attraction (and vice versa). Addiction recovery is complicated enough without bringing other powerful urges into the mix. 

What If It Isn’t a Good Fit?

Sometimes, a sponsee comes to realize that their sponsor was not the right choice for them, or they reach a place in their recovery where what they need from a sponsor has changed. In either case, the sponsee may simply choose a different sponsor.

However, it is important for a person who wants to change sponsors to ensure that they are doing so for good reasons. Are you really incompatible with your sponsor, or are you upset because your sponsor is pointing out some difficult truths about your words, attitudes, or behaviors? If you’re trying to avoid being held accountable, breaking up with a sponsor can prevent growth. It is difficult to spot your own self-deception, so it’s a sponsor’s role to help you see where you might be hindering your own recovery.

If you are still in the stage of struggling with an addiction to alcohol or other substances, Safe Harbor’s team of professionals in Portsmouth, Virginia, can help you find the treatment that works for you.