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AA Sponsor: Who Are They And And What Are Their Responsibilities?

Last Updated: February 3, 2022

Authored by Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

For individuals struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction, all hope is not lost in recovery and achieving sobriety again. And one such medium of hope for achieving recovery and maintaining it is Alcoholics Anonymous. It provides members with support, acknowledgment, and a pathway to become sober again. Getting sober is a challenging task as it is, which one should not do alone, and getting help from their peers and sponsors can pave the path for addicts to become sober once and for all. One term often associated with Alcoholics Anonymous is a sponsor.

So, what is a sponsor in AA? What are AA sponsor boundaries and responsibilities? How to get into a 12-step sponsorship program? Is there any AA sponsor guide? How to take a sponsee through the 12 steps, and under what circumstances should one call a sponsor? Let’s find out.

What Is A Sponsor In AA?

An AA sponsor is a fellow member who has made considerable progress in his recovery, helps other AA members during their recovery journey, and guides them through the 12 steps. A member typically has at least 1 to 2 years of sobriety, although there are no specific rules for that. The more years of sobriety he has, the better he would guide the members, answer their questions, or just make them feel comfortable during their journey. Research shows that having a 12 step sponsorship is beneficial in maintaining sobriety.

According to the Book: Question & Answers on Sponsorship

Sponsorship gives the newcomer an understanding, sympathetic friend when one is needed most. Sponsorship also provides the bridge enabling the new person to meet other alcoholics — in a home group and in other groups visited.

When people become members of Alcoholics Anonymous programs, they are expected to choose a sponsor to whom they can be accountable and to whom they can address any queries or concerns. The member can speak openly and honestly with this chosen member to develop a connection of trust and honesty. They can guide the sponsee through their own experiences to relate their own circumstances and stay motivated. However, if at any time the member feels that they are not satisfied with a mentor who is offering sponsorship, they can have a choice of selecting a new one.

Difference Between A Sponsor And An Addiction Counselor

A sponsor is different from an addiction counselor in that the former is just a fellow member who has already found success with AA. In contrast, an addiction counselor is a certified and licensed practitioner with at least a Bachelor’s degree and evaluates their patients to prescribe treatment. A sponsor just offers advice and suggestions from personal experience to encourage members towards recovery. However, an addiction counselor can prescribe their patient’s medications or refer them to other practitioners or personnel based on the assessment as part of a treatment program.

Qualities Of A Good Sponsor

If someone wants to become a good sponsor, there are certain traits and qualities that he should possess.

These Can Serve as a Good AA Sponsor Guide and Include the Following:

  • They should be sober for at least a year before sponsoring other members. This is the core trait because one cannot offer sponsorship if he is not sober for a considerable amount of time.
  • The person should have gone through the 12 steps of recovery personally to share the experience and navigate the sponsee through their 12 steps.
  • The person should have the humility to know his weaknesses and vulnerability to alcohol, drugs, and other stressors. When the AA sponsor recognizes his weaknesses and vulnerability, he can encourage humility and awareness in his sponsee.
  • The person should maintain the confidentiality of all his fellow members, including his sponsees.
  • The person should be compassionate when it comes to the sponsee to treat them with kindness without any fear of judgments or criticisms. However, compassion should not become a source of enabling the sponsee since he has to hold the sponsee accountable. Perfect moderation and balance of compassion, firmness, and accountability make a person good to offer sponsorship.
  • He should have good listening skills to be patient and understanding as the sponsee narrates his experiences, emotions, and feelings. When he is a good listener, the sponsee would feel comfortable sharing his feelings and thus be better motivated to continue towards the road to recovery.
There are no specific rules, but a good sponsor probably should be a year or more away from the last drink — and should seem to be enjoying sobriety.Questions & Answers on Sponsorship

Why Are Boundaries Important?

AA sponsor boundaries need to be created and honored between the sponsor and sponsee to work together in harmony. People struggling with addiction often have boundaries since they feel they cannot control themselves and won’t be able to say NO to the sponsor. Similarly, the mentor offering sponsorship should not take undue advantage of his role to become too demanding for the sponsee. The healthy AA sponsor boundaries should never be crossed so that agreements can be kept and honored in an environment where experiences are shared, strength and hope are offered, and resources are shared between the sponsor and sponsee.

Responsibilities Of A Sponsor Of AA

As a sponsor, a person has several responsibilities associated with his role. These responsibilities make up the AA sponsor guide to which they must adhere.

These AA Sponsor Responsibilities Are Discussed Below:

  • His primary responsibility is to help the new members in whatever way possible, within his boundaries and knowledge, to achieve sobriety and maintain it.
  • Another responsibility includes leading by example by staying sober and preventing relapses from aspiring to do the same.
  • He introduces the newcomer to other members of AA.
  • He introduces a new sponsee to the Big Book and the 12 steps.
  • He is also responsible for describing the 12 steps to the members to fully understand them and adopt them in their lives.
  • He listens to the sponsees to share their fears, vulnerabilities, and feelings so they can stay motivated during the journey.
  • He also encourages the sponsee to attend various AA meetings and groups so he can listen to the experiences of multiple people.
  • AA sponsor responsibilities also include encouraging the sponsee to be steadfast in his sobriety journey so one day he could become a mentor and pass on their experiences to new members and help them achieve and maintain sobriety.

How To Take A Sponsee Through the 12 Steps

This is the most crucial responsibility of the sponsor on how he takes the sponsee through the 12 steps. He must lead by example and show the sponsee how he has recovered and achieved sobriety through the 12 steps. He must show him how applying these 12 steps in every walk of life has helped him maintain his sobriety, and the same can be possible for the sponsee if he starts living his life by the Big Book and the 12 steps.

Sad man listening to his AA sponsor.

Things To Consider When Choosing A Sponsor of AA

If a person wants to join the Alcoholics Anonymous program and is looking for a sponsor, there are several factors and things that he should consider in the prospective candidate. These are discussed below.

The Time A Person Has Been Sober

One of the most important things to consider in a potential candidate is that he should be sober for at least a year, if not more. This way, he knows what it entails in the recovery process, especially in the first few months where members are more vulnerable to relapse. A person, who has been through all these emotions and feelings, would better be able to guide the new members and pass on his suggestions to stay sober and prevent relapses. An AA sponsor should never be a newly sober member.

Consider The Gender Of The Person

Usually, individuals are better able to connect and communicate with members of the same sex since they feel more comfortable talking about their personal and private lives. However, this may not be possible if the sponsor and sponsee are of opposite sexes. Opposite sexes also carry the risk of romantic feelings, which can hinder the process of recovery. Therefore, although it is not prohibited to choose a person of the opposite sex to offer sponsorship, it is not recommended.

Consider The Sobriety Process And History Of The Candidate

If the potential candidate offering sponsorship has been through all the phases of the 12 steps and seems to live by them, there is a good chance that they would become good mentors for the new member as well. He should be considered a strong candidate if he can balance his life, work, and sobriety harmoniously and seems happy and content with it.

Check The Number Of Sponsees Of The Candidate

The number of sponsees that a sponsor has shows the amount of success he can keep members sober. However, too many sponsees can mean that he would not have enough time and resources for all the members, thus hindering their sobriety journey. Therefore, a maximum of two or three sponsees is enough; otherwise, one should look for another contender.

Check The Willingness Of The Candidate For 12 Step Sponsorship

Another factor to consider is what the person thinks about sponsorship. Is he even willing to offer his 12 step sponsorship? There may be a case where a person feels that some other member can become a good Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor for him, but the other person might not be willing to or interested in becoming one. So the willingness of the prospective candidate should also be considered.

Consider The Medium Of How One Wants To Ask The Candidate If They Are Willing

A person may be too shy or fearful to ask a prospective client directly if he can offer his sponsorship to him. So consider the different mediums that one can use to ask the prospective contender. It could be through text, phone calls, email, or another way they feel comfortable.

woman embracing her AA sponsor.

When To Call Your Sponsor Of AA?

A member of AA may be confused about the situations where he/she should or should not contact their AA sponsor.

Following Are The Situations When One Should Call the Sponsor:

  • If one feels stressed out because of any particular situation or someone, such as a friend, family, or coworker, and he feels that he would resort to consuming alcohol, he should call immediately.
  • If one wants any kind of help in understanding the Big Book or the 12 steps, they can make a call and discuss them to have a better understanding.
  • If one feels that they have a big decision to make regarding work, school, relationships, or any other problem, they might feel stressed out or anxious. It is better to pick up the phone and talk it through to avoid triggers.
  • Often, when in a romantic relationship, a person can feel stressed out because of a fight or conflict, which could lead to relapse. Talking to a person offering sponsorship can help calm the nerves, so this trigger can be avoided. Similarly, if one is trying to start a romantic relationship, he may be in self-doubt whether he is making the right choice or not. Talking through the process with a close confidant and support like an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor can help one make the right decisions.
  • Many people in one’s life can be toxic, and avoiding them all the time may not be possible for them. When someone feels that toxic relationships are tearing them down, it is a good time to make a call where one’s sponsor can guide them on how to deal with the toxic individuals or deal with the issues healthily and soberly.
  • If one feels extremely sad because of any event or situation, it can become a massive trigger for relapse. Or, if he feels that worth is not being acknowledged and starts questioning self-worth and esteem, it is time for him to make a call to deal with these feelings positively and positively.
  • Apart from these situations mentioned above, if one feels the urge or temptation to indulge in alcohol or drugs or if someone feels that their friends or peers are forcing them to drink, it is time to contact the Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor to calm their nerves.
  • If one fell prey to temptation and drank alcohol or did drugs, they may feel that this setback is enough to ruin their sobriety journey. However, this is the time to call the designated person and not feel defeated because of the setback. The Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor would help him get over the setback and teach ways to handle stressors so such a situation does not arise in the future.

Getting Help Today

Getting and staying sober is a challenging task that can not be done alone. However, having the right kind of support and resources around one can help ease the pathway to recovery and show positive outcomes in preventing relapse. An AA sponsor is an essential part of the recovery journey whose help and support should be sought to achieve and maintain sobriety.

Sponsorship responsibilities are welcomed and accepted as opportunities to enrich personal AA experience and to deepen the satisfactions that come from working with others.Questions & Answers on Sponsorship

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Page Sources

  1. Whelan, P. J., Marshall, E. J., Ball, D. M., & Humphreys, K. (2009). The role of AA sponsors: A pilot study. Alcohol & Alcoholism, 44(4), 416-422. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19297380/
  2. Questions & Answers On Sponsorship. Aa.org. https://www.aa.org/sites/default/files/literature/assets/p-15_Q%26AonSpon.pdf.
  3. Stevens, E. B., & Jason, L. A. (2015). Evaluating alcoholics anonymous sponsor attributes using conjoint analysis. Addictive behaviors, 51, 12-17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4558395/
  4. Witbrodt, J., Kaskutas, L., Bond, J., & Delucchi, K. (2012). Does sponsorship improve outcomes above Alcoholics Anonymous attendance? A latent class growth curve analysis. Addiction, 107(2), 301-311. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3260344/
  5. Tonigan, J. S., & Rice, S. L. (2010). Is it beneficial to have an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor?. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 24(3), 397. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5512698/

Published on: February 3rd, 2022

Updated on: February 3rd, 2022

About Author

Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Nena Messina is a specialist in drug-related domestic violence. She devoted her life to the study of the connection between crime, mental health, and substance abuse. Apart from her work as management at addiction center, Nena regularly takes part in the educational program as a lecturer.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.