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7 Qualities to Look for in a Recovery Sponsor

Finding a sponsor is an important part of 12-Step support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). If you recently joined a support group or are considering joining, you may have questions like “what is a sponsor?” and “what does a sponsor do?” Here, we’ll take a look at what a sponsor does as well as 7 qualities to look for in a sponsor.

What Does a Sponsor Do?

The role of the sponsor in 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous is to provide a support system for the newcomer. An individual who has recently made a decision to stop misusing drugs and alcohol is in a very delicate position. One of the best things they can do is simply talk to someone who knows what they are going through.

What Is an AA Sponsor?

Alcoholics Anonymous started with a sponsorship when founding members Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith came together in 1935. Wilson, only a few months sober from a debilitating alcohol problem, decided to find someone else who was in a similar situation. That’s when he met Dr. Smith. At the time there was no such thing as 12-step programs or sponsors. The only option for alcohol addiction treatment was a mental hospital.

Later, hospitals began to require that alcoholic patients find a “sponsor” from a local AA program before they could be discharged. The sponsor was present when the patient was released, and they took them to their first meetings.

What Is an NA Sponsor?

Like an AA sponsor, a Narcotics Anonymous sponsor supports people struggling with narcotics or drug addiction. According to Narcotics Anonymous, “an NA sponsor is a member of Narcotics Anonymous, living our program of recovery, who is willing to build a special, supportive, one-on-one relationship with us.”1 Narcotics Anonymous literature states that a sponsor is not necessarily a friend, but someone in which a member can confide in.1

You don’t have to have a sponsor to join a 12-step program. Many people in recovery go years before finding one. But since AA, NA, and similar programs function as support groups, sponsorship is a significant factor. It’s important to choose a sponsor with the appropriate qualities, because they are one of the first people you’ll call in moments of weakness.

What to Look for in a Sponsor

  1. They Are Happily Sober: If a sponsor is there to answer your questions about recovery, then they must have been through the same experience themselves. Ideally a sponsor is someone who has been sober for at least 1 year, and has completed all 12 steps. Some experts recommend choosing a sponsor who has successfully completed 5 years of sobriety.
  2. They Are Not Sexually Attractive: A sponsor is there as an impartial party that you can trust. They are only there to help members achieve sobriety. Sex introduces a lot of complications, and for that reason it is better to select a sponsor of the same gender – or the opposite for homosexuals.
  3. They Listen More Than They Talk: The sponsor is there to encourage the newcomer’s integration into the program. They are not your therapist, clergy member, or boss. They are there to answer your questions about sobriety, not to treat co-occurring conditions, preach personal beliefs, or order you around.
  4. They Display a Positive Attitude: Obviously a person who maintains a poor attitude toward sobriety is a bad choice for AA sponsorship. They should also have a positive mindset about your recovery, and offer reinforcement as needed. For example, they will encourage you to participate in group activities or identify common mistakes made by newcomers.
  5. You Met Them at a Meeting: The best place to find fully integrated members is at recovery meetings, not at a ball game or the beach. This way you can see how committed they are toward meetings and to the support that is involved.
  6. They Have Enough Time: Substance misuse, personality disorders, and addiction don’t follow a work schedule. You have to find a sponsor who has enough time to talk to you throughout the week, and can promptly return your messages. That means picking someone who doesn’t already have several sponsees.
  7. You Don’t Dread Contacting Them: Overall, a sponsor is someone that the newcomer can trust and relate to throughout the process of recovery. If your instincts tell you something isn’t right, or you dread picking up the phone to talk to your sponsor, it is okay to seek out a new one. AA has rules in place for such situations.

Finding a Sponsor

Finding a sponsor can be awkward. It may take more than one try. But remember that the program is there to provide a foundation for people in the same place they once were, and they want to help you. In the end, sponsorship is an important relationship that is paramount to successful recovery through 12-step programs.

12-Step programs can offer an abundance of support and resources, help establish a routine, and serve as an effective addition to an addiction treatment plan. If you’re struggling with addiction, a 12-Step program may provide the support and resources that are right for you.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading treatment provider and has trusted programs across the country. You can locate a rehab center using the directory. Contact an AAC admissions navigator to verify your insurance and learn what treatment options are available to you. You can also call us free at any time, day or night at .

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