How to Become a Sponsor
Sponsorship as it relates to treatment and recovery from drug and alcohol abuse was first introduced by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). There are several components to alcohol rehab; attending group therapy is often a cornerstone of that process. AA meetings are an important part in the 12 Step process because they offer alcoholics an opportunity to discuss challenges and successes with peers who are experiencing something similar.
In AA and other groups, a sponsor is a person who is in recovery that helps mentor another person who is trying to get sober.
Becoming a sponsor has many benefits. Sponsoring helps not only the individual being sponsored but also the sponsor as well. This is due in part to the fact that sponsors keep themselves and others accountable. Research shows that recovering addicts who have sponsors are significantly less likely to relapse in the year following treatment.1
How Does a Recovering Addict Become a Sponsor?
Before offering to sponsor someone else, there are a few criteria that must be met. First, make sure that others in your AA group know you’re ready and willing to become a sponsor. Most often, newcomers to a group ask for sponsorship, not the other way around. This is ideal because the sponsor should be someone with whom the newly sober person is comfortable. The new person also needs to make the decision to seek a sponsor in their own time. Not all new members to AA want or need a sponsor, depending on where they are in their recovery.
There’s no formal training that accompanies being a sponsor. In AA, the organization prides itself on casual informality. This helps to foster friendly and conducive meetings that build long-term relationships.
The best sponsors are those who live and work the philosophy of the program. Living a sober, drug-free life helps you set an example for others in your group. Sometimes, deciding to become a sponsor is an easy choice to make. You may be asked to sponsor a newcomer and immediately feel a sense of pride that someone sees you as a person to emulate.
For others, the confidence needed to become a sponsor is hard to find. If you’ve been asked to sponsor and aren’t sure if you’re ready, consider talking with your own sponsor for advice.
What Are Some Good Traits a Sponsor Should Have?
One of the most important traits for a sponsor to embody is remembering what it’s like to be an addict. That means that it’s important for a sponsor to recall how they behaved while using drugs or abusing alcohol. It’s through this understanding that you’ll begin to build trust with the newcomer to your group.
Remember: A person who has never been an addict won’t ever completely understand what it’s like to feel the tug of drugs and alcohol. As a sponsor, you become the steward of your community.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be tough if the situation calls for it. You have to be honest—both with yourself and the newcomer—so that everyone has the tools they need to succeed. You shouldn’t enable the addiction, even if it seems like the easier thing to do.
After being understanding, the second most important trait of a sponsor is to be patient. Addiction is a recurring disease and relapse is very possible.2
There are going to be times when the person you’re sponsoring tries your patience and tests your limits. Remember that it’s your job to reinforce the importance of recovery and sobriety. That will mean something different for each person you sponsor. It’s imperative that you’re at a place in your own recovery where you won’t be tempted with drugs and alcohol. In leading by example and providing a consistent safe space, you’ll be helping the newcomer remain sober.
Being a Sponsor Is a Full-Time Job
Being a sponsor is a full-time volunteer job. It’s a massive responsibility that deserves attention, care, and respect.
Sponsors need to be available all the time to help support recovery efforts. As a sponsor, you should not only expect calls at all times of the day and night, but you should also remember that temptation strikes in a variety of places.
It’s especially difficult in the beginning to stake a claim on sobriety.
As a sponsor, part of your role is reinforcing why the person is doing this and then helping them make the change.
Responsibilities of Being a Sponsor
Sharing life experiences and wisdom gleaned from sobriety is just one part of being a sponsor. Setting a good example of what’s possible by leading a sober life is another component to sponsorship.
In addition to serving as a mentor, a sponsor should also encourage the newcomer to attend as many meetings as possible. This helps expand the newcomer’s experiences and understanding of how meetings can help with recovery.
Sponsors should suggest programs that can help aid in recovery efforts, including new programs that might be especially useful.
Introducing the newcomer to the community will help extend their support network and help them use resources like literature and support materials found in different groups.
A good sponsor will answer any questions the newcomer has about how the program works. It’s important that the sponsor answer openly and honestly about the program.
Sponsors often act as liaisons between newcomers and their families or employers to help others understand the principles of AA or NA.
Sponsors are also tasked with ensuring that a newcomer doesn’t feel pressured, threatened, or belittled in any way. This can be done by observing the following:
- Do not impose religious or lifestyle beliefs on the newcomer.
- Do not answer questions for which they aren’t qualified.
- Do not speak as an organization representative.
- Do not offer professional counseling services.
Is There a Right Way and Wrong Way to Be a Sponsor?
AA states there’s no“correct” or “incorrect” way to be a sponser. Every person will bring their own experiences to the practice.3
Some sponsors will be tough, and some will be gentle; that’s simply the nature of sponsorship. This is why it’s important for a newcomer to carefully select their sponsor. It’s vital to the success of the mentorship that the sponsor and newcomer get along well.
Every person is unique, so each approach will be different.
Avoid Overdependence and Abuse During Sponsorship
Newcomers can become overly dependent on sponsors, especially during the early stages of sobriety when the detox process takes its toll.4
It’s okay for a newcomer to lean on their sponsor for support, but once the initial period has passed, the newcomer should be learning to stand on their own two feet and relying less on the sponsor.
Sponsorship can be rewarding, and it can help an individual maintain their own sobriety. It can also be a difficult and thankless challenge.
Making a difference in someone’s life is never a waste of time, even if one of your newcomers fails to continue their path to recovery while you are mentoring them.
Each step along the road to recovery counts for them, just as it counted for you.
- Pagano, M.E., Friend, K.B., Tonigan, J.S., Stout, R.L. (2010). Helping Other Alcoholics in Alcoholics Anonymous and Drinking Outcomes: Findings from Project MATCH. J Stud Alcohol, 65(6), 766-773.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.
- Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2017). Questions & Answers on Sponsorship.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Frequently Asked Questions.
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