What Is a Sponsor for Addicts?

Sober Link sobriety monitor

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. (Step 12)

Been there, got the T-shirt, and now I am here for you. That, in essence, is a sponsor, and a sponsor is vital in a 12-step program.

Sponsors Addicts Alcoholics Anonymous Recovery

This post looks at the role of the sponsor in the recovery process.

What Does a Sponsor Do?

A sponsor is a guide, a mentor, and a friend. In those moments in recovery where you want that shot of bourbon or to snort a line if you and your sponsor have exchanged phone numbers, reach out to your sponsor. Better a phone call than a relapse.

A sponsor stands by their charge through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous or any other 12-step recovery program. They went through this in their own recovery, and they know how difficult it can be. They also know how to ask the difficult questions that some of the steps need and to ask without being judgmental.

Think about these steps:

Step 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Step 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Step 8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

Step 9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Step 10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

A sponsor is crucial to the best possible resolution of each of these steps. This is likely to be the other human being to whom we admit the exact nature of our wrongs.

What Are the Qualities of a Sponsor?

A sponsor is firstly someone of integrity, who will treat everything in confidence, even the vilest of details. The degree of confidence should be no less than that of the Catholic confessional. The trust must be complete.

A sponsor should have a successful recovery and have several years of sobriety behind them. They should be able to draw on the experiences of their own recovery from substance abuse. They must be committed to the sponsor role and see sponsorship as a service.

The sponsorship relationship is rooted in the purpose of the twelfth step quoted at the top of this article. It is a way of carrying the message, the full twelve steps involved in it, to an alcoholic. It is the culmination of everything; to have reached a point where from once having been in the same position as the sponsee, they are now able to help someone emerge from the darkness that they were once immersed in.

One of the most difficult things in the sobriety journey is achieving balance, particularly the idea in the 9th step promises that we will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. A sponsor is vital in helping in getting people past that hard time when they are overwhelmed with guilt about their actions while drinking.

Selecting a Sponsor

Do not rush to find a sponsor. Some rush to find a sponsor and others are hesitant but be assured the benefits of a good sponsor are immense. This is why you need one and why the selection of a sponsor shouldn’t be rushed.

It may be wise to choose a temporary sponsor as a guide in the days of early sobriety, but this is a stop-gap while you look for the right sponsor. Most people are a potential sponsor for new members, but there should be a rapport so that the sponsorship relationship is effective. The sponsor needs to be someone from who you can take hard questions, trust enough to give honest answers, and discuss things in an uncompromising way.

Choose someone who for you is a role model, who can provide emotional support, has a good listening ear, and will not accommodate our efforts to lie to ourselves as we go through our inventories and make amends.

Bad Sponsors

Sadly, there are bad sponsors. Sometimes it is nobody’s fault and there is simply a failure to connect. It is always necessary to see how a sponsor and sponsee work out and if necessary to end the sponsor-sponsee relationship. These are not bad sponsors.

The bad sponsor is someone who fails to build up the recovering addict along the lines of the 12 steps. They may have one or more of several faults. These include:

  • Having an over-inflated ego.

For this person being a sponsor is more about being seen to be a sponsor rather than being interested in the sponsor role.

  • Being abusive

There are many ways of being abusive. Most typically, this would be ridiculing or belittling the person they are supposed to help it. A good sponsor calls out actions, not the person.

  • Being manipulative

This is taking advantage of the power dynamic and is aimed at taking advantage of the sponsee. It may be as simple as running chores to trying to elicit sex. The occasional request for a favor as one friend to another is, of course, fine, but when it becomes a regular thing and starts to feel exploitative, then it needs to be dealt with. Something like sex should never be raised.

  • Being negligent

Being a sponsor requires time and commitment. There may be times when a person cannot deal with a call from a sponsee. A family emergency is an obvious example, but exceptions aside a sponsor needs to be responsive in dealing with their charge’s needs, particularly in the days of early sobriety.

If a sponsor exhibits any of these traits, it is necessary to move on. The idea is intimidating but necessary to ensure you are in the best place for completing the program. Anything less than an effective sponsor is not the right sponsor.


An AA sponsor is the product of previous sponsors in a line that can be traced back to Bill. W and Dr. Bob. The sponsor then feeds on the legacy of previous sponsors going back to the foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous. I have always found that thought to be inspirational.

A sponsor will be a good friend, but in a way that you may not be used to. We had friends in the days who were not honest and did not call us out. They may even have supported our substance abuse disorder. A sponsor will be a true friend and hold up a mirror in which we see both the good and the bad in us without condemning us.

A sponsor will be a guide through the recovery journey and the twelve steps as we go through them. They will point out a better path and do it with compassion because they have been there themselves.

A sponsor will be a mentor, helping us learn this new and frankly sometimes intimidating new way of life.

In response to the question of what Is a sponsor for addicts, the answer is clearly that a sponsor Is someone who will make a clear difference on the road to sobriety.

Note: Except where specified, all quotes are from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous