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What is an AA Sponsor? Why are They Important?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a common condition in the U.S., affecting 14.5 million people ages 12 and up. This includes 9 million men and 5.5 million women.

Unfortunately, not all of these people seek help. Instead, people with AUD are more likely to reach out to a primary care physician to treat an alcohol-related medical problem than they are to seek support for drinking too much.3

Only about 7.2 percent of people (aged 12+) who have had AUD in the past year received treatment. Less than 4 percent of people with AUD have been prescribed a medication that’s been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat the disorder. 

But help is available. For example, Alcoholics Anonymous, more commonly known by its abbreviation AA, is a recovery program for people who struggle with alcohol addiction.1 It is also available to their loved ones.

AA describes itself as “an international fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem.” The organization has been around, helping people throughout the alcohol use recovery process, since 1939.1

It is important to note that AA is a nonprofessional and self-supporting organization. It is also apolitical and available around the world.1 Anyone who wants to make a change and do something about their drinking problem is welcome to become a member.

AA is largely known for The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, which is a guiding group of principles that “enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole.”1 These 12 principles include the following:

  1. “Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity.”
  2. “For our group purpose, there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.”
  3. “The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.”
  4. “Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.”
  5. “Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.”
  6. “An AA group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the AA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.”
  7. “Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.”
  8. “Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.”
  9. “AA, as such, ought never be organized, but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.”
  10. “Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.”
  11. “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.”
  12. “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”

Some AA members also have AA sponsors to help them along the recovery journey.

An AA sponsor is someone who supports an alcoholic who is attempting to quit drinking or maintain sobriety. They are also someone who has made progress in the recovery program themselves. The sponsor shares their experience and offers support on an individual basis.10

What is the Difference Between a Sponsor & an Addiction Counselor?

An AA sponsor is someone who has also suffered from AUD. This person has already found success with AA. Therefore, they offer support through sharing their own experience on a continuous basis with someone else in need.10

An AA sponsor is not qualified to diagnose addiction or prescribe treatment. Rather, they are there to offer their own personal views on sobriety, share their personal experiences, and encourage sponsees and new members along the road to recovery.

On the other hand, an addiction counselor is a credible professional. They are someone who is qualified to assess and evaluate their clients’ mental and physical health, as well as their addiction. They help them develop treatment plans to quit drinking in a safe way, and they may even prescribe medications or refer them to other resources.

Addiction counselors are also responsible for helping clients build skills and change their behaviors to recover from addiction. They may also work with clients’ families to help them better identify toxic behaviors and be supportive of their struggling loved ones.

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Qualifications & Responsibilities of an AA Sponsor 

To be an AA sponsor, you should have already gone through the AA recovery program yourself. To be a good AA sponsor, you should have seen success with AA meetings and be able to relate your experience to that of newcomers who are also looking to attain or maintain sobriety.

AA sponsor responsibilities will vary depending on the needs of the new member. A good sponsor will take on the following responsibilities:11

  • You should do everything in your power to help the sponsee get sober and stay sober throughout the AA program. It is just as important to maintain sobriety as it is to achieve sobriety.
  • You should use your personal experience and knowledge to empower and encourage the sponsee.
  • You should give the sponsee a better understanding of the program and field any questions or concerns they may have about AA meetings.
  • You should be a supportive, understanding, sympathetic, trusting, reliable, and motivational friend to the sponsee.

The relationship between an AA sponsor and sponsee should be a mutually beneficial one.

Can an AA Sponsor be a Friend?

While an AA Sponsor can be a friend and will likely become a friend, it is ideal to choose an AA sponsor who is not biased and will not enable your poor drinking patterns.

5 Qualities to Look for in an AA Sponsor

A sponsorship relationship could be a huge part of your journey to recovery. That’s why it’s important to find a sponsor who can really help you. 

Here are five qualities to look for in an AA sponsor:

1. You can trust them.

A good AA sponsor is someone who you trust has your best interest in mind. You have seen their success and are willing to take their word. Their experiences inspire you, and you trust that, in time, you will get to the same point. Until then, you know you can rely on them for support and guidance.

2. They have been successful.

There are no written rules to sponsorship. But a good sponsor is someone who has not had a drink in the last year or longer and seems to be enjoying their new sober life.7 Their own sobriety serves as motivation for you.

3. They speak your language.

People are receptive to support in different ways. You may be better able to receive advice when it’s given to you in a loving, sympathetic way. Or you may be someone who needs firm, tough love. Whatever the case, look for someone who can provide you what you need.

4. They are responsive.

An ideal AA sponsor is someone who you can rely on when you need them. They should be responsive when you reach out and respond within a reasonable timeframe. 

After all, they exist to answer any questions and concerns you may have, lift you up when you need some words of inspiration, and be a vital part of your recovery journey. 

5. They can relate to you.

You will probably want to work with a sponsor whose story resonates with you. When you can picture yourself in their shoes, you may have an easier time. Not only does relatability help to establish rapport, but it also provides encouragement and a light at the end of the tunnel for your own recovery.

If your sponsor does not fit the above, it may be time to find a different sponsor to support you in your recovery.

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Does Everyone Need an AA Sponsor?

No, not everyone needs an AA sponsor. However, a sponsor and sponsee relationship is an important one.

Research suggests that AA sponsorship is effective. Already, studies show that AA attendance significantly boosts abstinence.8 And people in AA who work with sponsors abstain from drinking alcohol and relapsing more than people who do not have sponsors.8

Tips for Finding an AA Sponsor 

When looking for an AA sponsor, keep these quick tips in mind:

  • Seek a sponsor who you can trust.
  • Only work with someone with whom you feel comfortable and can be vulnerable with.
  • Work with a winner. You will want someone who has already been successful themselves.
  • Turn to someone who you can rely on for support whenever you need it. That’s why they’re there.
  • Look for someone whose experiences relate to yours. Maybe they had similar triggers, are of the same sex, had the same challenges, etc.
  • Work with a sponsor who is not related to you or is not already a close friend who may be biased or an enabler.
  • Reach out to people in your AA meeting with whom you already connect. Organic connections serve as ideal foundations for AA sponsorship relationships.

If you are considering AA or are going to AA meetings already, finding a sponsor is a great way to advance your progress. As a recovering alcoholic trying to get or stay sober, the support from someone who has been in your position can make all the difference.

Resources

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Alcoholic Anonymous.” Alcoholics Anonymous.

Addiction Counseling / Overview.” / Overview

Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Alcohol Use Disorder.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 11 July 2018.

Alcohol's Effects on Health.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Drinking Levels Defined.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Questions & Answers: AA Sponsorship.” Alcoholic Anonymous, AA.

Tonigan, J Scott, and Samara L Rice. “Is It Beneficial to Have an Alcoholics Anonymous Sponsor?Psychology of Addictive Behaviors : Journal of the Society of Psychologists in Addictive Behaviors, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2010.

Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

What Is a Sponsor? Support.Alcoholics Anonymous Cleveland, 4 Feb. 2019.

Whelan, Paul J. P., et al. “Role of Aa Sponsors: A Pilot Study.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 18 Mar. 2009.

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