Understanding Sponsors in AA & NA

Center to many people’s continued sobriety through a 12-Step approach is the guidance of a sponsor—someone who has familiarity with the recovery process and is willing to be a resource to those learning about recovery.

Keep reading to learn more about:

  • How AA sponsor and sponsee relationships work.
  • The role of an AA sponsor.
  • How to find a support group.

The relationship between a sponsor and a sponsee can have a profound effect on the recovery process.

What Is an AA/NA Sponsor?

“A sponsor is ‘An alcoholic who has made some progress in the recovery program shares that experience on a continuous, individual basis with another alcoholic who is attempting to attain or maintain sobriety through A.A.’”1

A person who familiarizes themselves with the 12-Step approach and works their way through the steps may be able and willing to help guide newcomers and those looking for extra support.

The role of an AA sponsor, then, is to do what they can with their knowledge and experience to help the newcomer, or “sponsee” get sober and stay sober through the 12-Step recovery group program. Sponsors are also common in non 12-Step recovery programs.

A study from 2009 found that sponsors had attended meetings, on average, for 9.5 years. They felt they had three very distinct jobs to perform as sponsors:2

  • They needed to encourage sponsees to work the 12-Steps of sobriety.
  • They felt obligated to provide ongoing support to sponsees.
  • They felt that they should share their own personal experiences of AA, to help boost the chances of a sponsee’s recovery.

This may seem like a short to-do list, but there is quite a bit involved. An AA sponsor might be required to provide around-the-clock crisis support for sponsees, so those people have someone to call when they are in the midst of a sobriety challenge.

A sponsor might also feel compelled to understand and work the program steps even harder on a personal level so it will be easier to provide instruction for someone in need. Sponsors can help sponsees with relapse prevention and talk to them with first-hand knowledge about repairing relationships after rehab.

What Is a Sponsee in AA/NA?

Anyone who is moving along a journey of recovery from an addiction could be a sponsee. Sometimes, a sponsee is new to sobriety and the 12-Step movement and needs a little guidance from a mentor in order to understand the challenges and expectations of the recovery process.

Most participants of 12-Step programs are strongly encouraged to become a sponsee and find a sponsor.3

Sometimes, a sponsee is an experienced member of the 12-Step movement who would like to brush up on lessons with someone else. Anyone who spends time in the movement can be a sponsee.

What To Expect From A Sponsor In Addiction Recovery

While the entire 12-Step group claims responsibility for helping keep its members on a path toward recovery and continued sobriety, sponsor/sponsee relationships can provide extra resources, help, and comfort for those who believe they need it.

An important tenant of the 12-Step program is the understanding that there is no hierarchy to addiction and recovery, so there is no hierarchy among members who attend these meetings. The approach to the AA sponsor and sponsee relationship is informal, with no written rules about how often they should communicate or how the AA sponsor should help.

That being said, there are some general approaches to the sponsor and sponsee relationship that 12-step organizations like AA encourage, such as:1

  • Encouraging social interactions in the group, including attending and participating in group activities and a variety of meetings.
  • Sharing and discussing the 12-Step organization’s literature and teachings.
  • Being available to answer questions, share anecdotes from their past experiences with addiction, and connect and guide a sponsee with tough situations and decisions.

How Often Do Sponsors Meet with Their Sponsees?

Because there are no hard and fast rules to sponsoring someone in a 12-step program, there is no requirement for the amount of time a sponsor must spend with a sponsee.

Some sponsors speak with their sponsees every single day. Some speak with them just once or twice per week. Some make themselves available around the clock for questions and support. Others have “working hours” in which they will accept calls. Some hold reading sessions for sponsees during off hours; some do not.

In general, the time involved should not be burdensome. After all, sponsors are also in recovery, and they need to attend to their own health and healing. They may not be able to support their own recovery if they are devoting excessive amounts of time to the healing process of others. That being said, it’s reasonable to assume that the time involved is measured in hours, not minutes.

How to Be an AA Sponsor

There are no tests to complete and pass, no licenses to apply for, nor any fees to pay to become a sponsor in a 12-Step program. Anyone with a personal connection to the recovery process who is willing to share with someone else can be a sponsor. However, despite there being no rulebook for it, it can be a big responsibility for someone who is also still struggling with their own recovery and sobriety.

It comes down to whether the person wanting to be a sponsor is ready to take on the role of an AA sponsor.

Finding a 12-Step Program for You

Support group meetings are not hard to find, and anyone who wants to attend a meeting can. You can find more information about meetings from a couple of the common 12-Step groups below:

Those who want to take on a sponsee or become a sponsee need to do little more than ask. These communities are open, welcoming, and made for everyone. Most people who attend really want to help others, and they are willing to work with anyone who asks for help. People who want to get involved can simply state that preference, and the group is likely to help make the right match.

Sunrise House Treatment Center offers inpatient rehab in New Jersey and hosts regular 12-Step meetings. The treatment team helps patients connect with local AA chapters prior to discharge to ensure patients stay connected to a support group throughout recovery. Call to learn more about the types of addiction treatment at Sunrise House.

Admissions navigators are available 24/7 to walk you through the treatment admissions process, answer any questions about using insurance to pay for rehab, or other ways to cover the cost of treatment. To quickly verify your insurance coverage, simply complete the secure now.

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