What is a Sponsor?

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what is a sponsor

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a mutual peer support fellowship geared towards helping people overcome substance use issues and improve their overall quality of life. Since its inception in the 1930s, AA has been widely researched, and there is significant proof of its efficacy. Sponsors play a fundamental role in AA and other similarly structured AA fellowships. According to an article published in Alcohol and Alcoholism titled, The Role of AA Sponsors: A Pilot Study, “ Sponsors are established members of the fellowship, who have been sober for a substantial period and have applied the principles of the AA program to their own lives. They mentor other members, give advice and support, and assist them in completing the 12 steps. Sponsors help both new and other established members of AA, but the support provided to ‘newcomers’ is given special importance in the fellowship.”

Basically, a sponsor is an AA member who has already been through the 12 Steps and who is willing and able to walk another person through the 12 Steps, serving as a mentor and guide.

About Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous is an international mutual-aid fellowship, designed to help people of all ages and walks of life overcome substance use disorders and maintain abstinence long-term. More commonly referred to as AA, this 12 Step program was initially developed in Akron, Ohio in the mid-1930s by Bill Wilson, a stockbroker, and Dr. Bob, a licensed surgeon. Both men had suffered from severe cases of alcoholism, and were able to successfully stop drinking after acknowledging alcoholism as a malady of the body, mind, and spirit. They worked closely with other alcoholics, implementing a set of 12 distinct steps that began with an admission of powerlessness and unmanageability. Over the course of the past 90 years, the program of Alcoholics Anonymous has maintained its initial integrity and helped millions of individuals from the far corners of the world overcome alcoholism and drug addiction.

Why Do I Need a Sponsor?

It is recommended that anyone who is new to the program find a sponsor within a reasonable time period. This is so that they can begin working through the Steps as early on as possible. As far as AA goes, the Steps are considered the meat and potatoes — the part of the program where the rubber really meets the road. Showing up to meetings on a daily basis is a great place to start, but most will agree that meeting attendance alone will not keep a person sober.

There are several reasons to look for a sponsor beyond just working through the Steps.

  • A sponsor will help you work through any challenges you might experience pertaining to your sobriety. Navigating a substance-free life can be tricky. You are bound to run into situations you aren’t sure how to tackle. For example, say you get invited to a work function and you know there will be ample drinking. You can call up your sponsor and ask what precautions they would recommend taking.
  • A sponsor will help keep you accountable. Most sponsors will ask you to check in with them regularly, at least towards the beginning of your sobriety. Answering to someone might seem like a frustrating part of the process, but it can be extremely beneficial.
  • Many AA members suggest that their relationship with their sponsor was the first healthy relationship they ever had. If all goes well, your sponsor might help you learn how to have a healthy, functional, mutually beneficial friendship with someone for the first time in a long time. Many individuals who struggle with alcoholism come from tumultuous familial backgrounds, or they struggle to maintain healthy friendships as a direct result of their excessive drinking and associated interpersonal issues. Sponsors teach you how to develop a friendship based on authentic emotional connection.

How to Find a Sponsor

What do you look for when you are finding a sponsor? It might seem like an intimidating process, but keep in mind that you are never really “locked in.” If you choose someone and they end up not feeling like a great fit, you can always let them know it isn’t working out and head in a different direction.

Look For Someone Who Has What You Want

It is always recommended that you look for a sponsor who has what you want. This doesn’t mean a fancy car, a high-powered career, or a fantastic and constantly rotating wardrobe. Consider what a person has from a recovery standpoint. Do they seem to have a fair amount of self-confidence and self-respect? Do they carry themselves in a way that you admire? Are they kind to other people? Do they seem to have a very solid and stable footing in their recovery? There are many important factors to consider.

Look For Someone With Solid Sobriety

As a general rule of thumb, it is a good idea to find a sponsor who has at least one full year of sobriety under their belt. However, this rule is not necessarily hard and fast. If you meet someone who has 10 months of sobriety, who has worked through the 12 Steps thoroughly, who attends a meeting every day, and who is heavily engaged in service work, this person might be a good candidate for sponsorship. However, we recommend finding a sponsor who has been sober for a more significant period of time.

Not Everyone is a Perfect Fit

Not everyone will be the right sponsor for you. Consider whether you want someone who is attentive and available or someone who has a busy, full life. Do you want a sponsor who has a “tough love” approach to sponsorship, or would you respond better to someone who is nurturing and soft with their words? Not every individual will have the attributes you want — take your time when picking out a sponsor (but don’t wait too long)!


If you or someone close to you has been struggling with a diagnosable alcohol use disorder and has had difficulty quitting without help, entering into a 12 Step program might be an ideal place to start. However, it is important to acknowledge that a higher degree of help might be necessary if an alcohol use disorder has become severe, or if there are any co-occurring issues present. For example, someone who has been engaging in daily drinking for upwards of a year might require a short stay in a medically monitored detox center. Someone who has been drinking heavily to self-medicate an underlying depressive disorder might benefit from an extended stay in a dual diagnosis treatment center. While a sponsor will help guide you through the steps and help you learn hope to live a life in recovery, outside help is often required. The best treatment option will depend on your unique clinical needs. To learn more about whether or not Alcoholics Anonymous is right for you, contact us today.

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