Addiction Treatment

What Is A Sponsor? The Importance of The Sponsor’s Role in the Recovery Process

Medically Reviewed By:

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu, M.D., M.S.

Last medically reviewed May 13, 2024

What Is a Sponsor?

Key Points

  • A sponsor is an experienced individual in recovery who offers guidance, support, and accountability to someone new to recovery
  • Qualifications include personal experience with addiction, knowledge of recovery programs, availability, empathy, boundaries, and commitment to growth
  • Responsibilities of a sponsor include providing support, sharing experiences, guiding through the recovery program, offering accountability and emotional support, and encouraging personal growth
  • Sponsees must be honest, willing, active in participation, accountable, open-minded, courageous, respectful, and grateful in the sponsor-sponsee relationship.
  • To find a sponsor, attend meetings, approach potential sponsors, utilize online resources, and seek recommendations from others in the recovery community.

What Is a Sponsor?

A sponsor is someone far into recovery who can offer guidance, support, and accountability to someone new to recovery. Sponsors will often share their experiences, help you tackle challenges when they arise, and stay committed to your recovery goals. It’s been shown that having a sponsor hugely benefits the recovery process.[1]

The Qualifications of a Sponsor

A sponsor needs to be able to provide support, guidance, and encouragement in your recovery process. There are various ways to do this.

  • Personal experience: A sponsor should have firsthand addiction experience and chart a successful path to recovery. Your sponsor needs to have maintained sobriety for a long time and have an understanding of the challenges that come with being early in your recovery journey.
  • Knowledge of recovery programs: A sponsor should know the steps of the recovery program in which they are involved. They must understand the program’s philosophy and be able to guide you through the recovery process based on these principles.
  • Availability: A sponsor should be willing and able to make themselves available to you, their sponsee, regularly and immediately. This can mean meeting in person, talking on the phone, texting, or emailing.
  • Empathy: A good sponsor is an empathetic and supportive listener who can offer encouragement and guidance to you. They must be able to relate to the struggles and emotions during the recovery journey with a strong sense of empathy.
  • Boundaries: Your sponsor should set appropriate boundaries in the sponsor-sponsee relationship. While they should offer support and guidance, they should also encourage self-reliance when necessary.
  • Commitment to growth: A good sponsor is committed to the client’s ongoing growth on the recovery journey. The client should actively participate in the recovery program, continue to work on their sobriety, and seek support and guidance from their sponsor when needed.

The Responsibilities Of A Sponsor

By agreeing to participate in a sponsorship, the sponsor has responsibilities to which they should adhere.[2]

  • Support and guidance: A sponsor should be available to provide support and guidance as you face the challenges of recovery. This might involve listening to you whenever you need an ear, offering advice based on your own experience, and encouraging you during difficult times.
  • Share experiences: Sponsors often share their own experiences with addiction and recovery to help their sponsee feel understood and less alone in their struggles.
  • Help navigate the recovery program: A sponsor can help you understand how to work through the steps or principles of your recovery program. They may explain the concepts behind the program and help you figure out how to apply them to your own life.
  • Provide accountability: Sponsors help their sponsees stay accountable to their recovery goals by checking in regularly, discussing progress, and offering gentle accountability when needed. This might involve encouraging meeting attendance, participation in recovery activities, and adherence to sobriety commitments.
  • Providing emotional support: Sponsors are there to offer emotional support to their sponsees as they navigate the ups and downs of recovery. This might involve listening, offering empathy and understanding, and helping the sponsee cope with difficult emotions without turning to substances.
  • Encouraging personal growth: Sponsors support their sponsees in their personal growth and self-discovery journey.
  • Modeling sober living: Sponsors are role models of sober living. Their actions demonstrate what it means to live a fulfilling and substance-free life in recovery.

The Responsibilities Of A Sponsee

Responsibilities of a Sponsee

The sponsee also has responsibilities in the sponsor and sponsee relationship. Here are some of the most important responsibilities of a sponsee:

  • Honesty: Sponsees need to be honest with their sponsor about anything related to their addiction and recovery. Communication is crucial to receiving effective guidance.
  • Willingness: Sponsees must be willing to change and grow. This involves being open to new ideas and trying out suggestions from their sponsor.
  • Participation: Sponsees are responsible for actively participating in their recovery program and taking ownership of their sobriety. This can take many forms, including attending meetings, completing step work, participating in therapy or counseling, and engaging in other recovery activities.
  • Accountability: Sponsees must hold themselves accountable for their actions and mistakes.
  • Open-mindedness: Sponsees must be willing to consider new perspectives and approaches to sobriety. Key factors include being receptive to feedback from their sponsor and open to trying out new strategies for maintaining sobriety.
  • Courage: Recovery is challenging. The sponsee needs to approach it with courage and determination.
  • Respect: A sponsee needs to respect their sponsor. They must value their time, listen to their guidance, and respect their boundaries.
  • Gratitude: Sponsees should express gratitude to their sponsors. Recognizing and appreciating the sponsor’s role may strengthen the bond between the sponsor and sponsee and make the recovery journey even more rewarding.

How To Find A Sponsor

Finding a sponsor for addiction recovery is a journey in and of itself. It can start with attending recovery program meetings or asking addiction healthcare providers for a referral. This is where you can connect with potential sponsors. While meeting people, be sure to pay attention to individuals who share their experiences during meetings and approach those with stories and attitudes that resonate with you.

Attending sponsorship-focused meetings or workshops, asking for recommendations from other group members, and seeking out and using online resources can help your search. When it comes time to choose a sponsor, be sure to choose someone you feel comfortable talking to and who has experience in recovery.

Finding the right sponsor may take time, so be patient and don’t get discouraged. Not everyone is cut out to be a sponsor, as sometimes taking on the level of responsibility required can increase the risk of relapse for the sponsor.[3]

Ask For Help When You Need It

If you’re struggling with addiction, finding a sponsor who is willing and able to walk with you on your recovery journey is extremely important. Don’t wait to reach out. Help is available.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I have more than one sponsor?

It’s acceptable to have more than one sponsor in addiction recovery. However, this is typically not common. Having multiple sponsors may offer a variety of perspectives, support styles, and areas of expertise. One sponsor may be more helpful with certain issues or steps in your recovery journey than another.

Being upfront and clear with all sponsors is important to ensure everyone knows your preferred arrangement. Note that having multiple sponsors may be a bigger time commitment.

What if I don’t connect with my sponsor?

If you aren’t connecting with your sponsor in the recovery, it’s crucial to address the issue by expressing your concerns. Start by reflecting on the reasons behind the lack of connection and, if need be, consider seeking a new sponsor. You should also look for support from other members of your recovery group and take steps to find a sponsor who can support you more effectively in your recovery journey. Having a sponsor is important in the recovery journey, so prioritize finding someone you feel comfortable with and can offer the support you need.

What if I can’t find a sponsor?

Don’t lose hope if you can’t find a sponsor right away. Here are some steps you can take for better results.

  • Expand Your Search: Attend various meetings and recovery programs or explore online forums and communities to expand your pool of potential sponsors.
  • Reach out: Approach people you think might make good sponsors and ask if they can sponsor you.
  • Ask for help: Ask other members of your recovery group or trusted friends for help. They may be able to recommend potential sponsors.
  • Consider alternatives: Having a sponsor is not the only support available. In the absence of a sponsor, try therapy, peer support groups, or mentorship programs.
  • Stay engaged: Stay engaged by attending meetings and reaching out for support when you need it. Building connections with others in recovery can lead to future sponsorships.

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[1]Mounting Evidence of the Benefits of 12-step Sponsors. (n.d.).

[2][3]McGovern, W., Addison, M., & McGovern, R. (2021). An Exploration of the Psycho-Social Benefits of Providing Sponsorship and Supporting Others in Traditional 12-Step, Self-Help Groups. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(5), 2208.