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How Sponsors Support Recovering Alcoholics and Drug Addicts

by Demarco Moore

March 24, 2023
a sponsor meets his sponsee for tea to talk about addiction recovery

If you’re new to addiction recovery, you might look for a peer support group to help you avoid triggers and succeed. If you decide to attend Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) or Narcotics Anonymous (N.A.) meetings, you can find a sponsor or a person in long-term recovery who can share their experience and guide you on your journey. The basics of sponsorship can be found in the A.A. and N.A. literature. 

Both recovery groups use the Twelve  Step Program to help people stay on the path to long-term recovery. Sponsors guide A.A. and N.A. members, or newcomers, through the Twelve Steps, while helping them stay on track with their recovery.


What Does It Mean To Be A Sponsor To Someone In Addiction Recovery?

a sponsor meets her sponsee in a restaurant to answer questions about addiction recovery

This blog covers the following topics:

What Is A Sponsor?


What is a sponsor? Our very own Michael Walsh explains what sponsorship means to him❤️ #landmarkrecovery #sponsorships #whatisasponsor #recoverysponsor #12stepsinrecovery #12stepprogram

♬ Unstoppable (I put my armor on, show you how strong I am) – Sia

A sponsor is an A.A. or N.A. member with at least one year of long-term recovery. This person has usually made significant progress in the Twelve-Step program and helps newcomers, known as “sponsees,” learn how to “live sober,” as the A.A. literature on sponsorship reads. People in early recovery who attend either group’s meetings for the first time might have questions about how each program helps people avoid drugs and alcohol. Sponsors use what they’ve learned during their recovery journey to guide newcomers through the program and provide recovery support.

They become a credible source of experience, strength and hope for people in recovery “looking to not take a drink today, one day at a time,” said Michael Walsh, who’s been in long-term recovery for over 25 years. 

Walsh, the director of clinical outreach at Landmark Recovery and host of the Landmark Recovery Radio Podcast, said while sponsorship is often misunderstood, the program is meant to help people in recovery lean on each other for support and to quit using substances.

“There was an old timer I knew who used to say, ‘The [A.A.] program works great, but it works better if you don’t drink,’” he explained on the Landmark Recovery TikTok page. “Helping someone at the beginning just not take a drink today is probably the most important thing.”

What Are A Sponsor’s Responsibilities? 

Sponsors give people in early recovery someone to turn to when they have questions, doubts or problems about their addiction recovery journey. 

“A sponsor’s responsibilities are really to introduce someone to the [Twelve-Step] program and the people,” Walsh said. “The fellowship is really important. It’s kind of like learning a new language for a lot of people when they walk in.”

In addition, a sponsor is usually responsible for helping a new A.A. or N.A. member:

  • Work the Twelve Steps
  • Adjust to life without drugs or alcohol through each program
  • Create an open honest relationship through long-term recovery
  • Access professional recovery services, like outpatient rehab, if needed
  • Meet other members in long-term recovery
  • Attend a variety of A.A./N.A. meetings to hear different viewpoints
  • See a present example of how the Twelve Steps successfully impact people in recovery
  • Explain the program to loved ones, and tell them about different support groups
  • Work with other people in long-term recovery

What A Sponsor DOESN’T Do

It’s not a sponsor’s responsibility to point fingers or place blame on newcomers. Sponsors don’t replace therapists, religious leaders or legal professionals. They’re strictly guides that help people in early recovery learn the Twelve-Step program and hold them accountable on their recovery journey.

Here are more examples of what a sponsor doesn’t do:

  • Judge their sponsee
  • Force personal views onto a sponsee
  • Pretend to know all the answers
  • Provide professional services
  • Teach a sponsee to rely on them
  • Date their sponsee

How Do I Pick A Good Sponsor?

The matching process between sponsors and new members is very informal. If you’re new to an A.A. or N.A. meeting, most members recommend going to a variety of meetings to find a sponsor you’re compatible with. Your sponsor will also be someone you feel comfortable guiding you through your recovery.

Ask plenty of questions before, during and after meetings. Then, simply approach a more experienced member and ask them to be your sponsor.

“Stick with the winners”

“An old A.A. saying suggests, ‘Stick with the winners.’” → Ian quote

Another way to find a sponsor is to identify a person whose recovery journey you admire and want to imitate. Walsh said the process is almost like asking someone for their best chocolate cake recipe. If a sponsee follows their sponsor’s lead (recipe), they’re likely to have a successful recovery.

“That’s a metaphor for I wanted what [my sponsor] had,” Walsh explained. “I liked the way he lived his life. He seemed happy and successful and content, and I wanted that. He suggested that if I went through the [12 Steps] with him the way he had gone through with his sponsor, and if I was willing to do the things that he did, then I’d probably get something pretty close to what he got.”

Other great qualities to look for in a sponsor include:

  • You admire their recovery journey
  • They have at least one year or more of long-term recovery
  • They have a good understanding of the A.A. program outlined in the Twelve Steps
  • They appear to enjoy their sobriety

[ADD 7 Benefits Of Having A Sponsor In Recovery]

How Do I Become A Sponsor?

“Sponsorship strengthens the older member’s sobriety” – page 12 of A.A. literature on sponsorship

Any A.A./N.A. member can become a sponsor and help people in early recovery work the program. There are no specific rules. However, most programs suggest that sponsors:

  • Be one year or more away from their last drink (or drug)
  • Avoid romantic relationships with sponsees

How Do Sponsors Handle “Slips”?


Slip ups are very normal in early recovery. Michael Walsh lets us in on what he does if a sponsee slips up. #relapseshappen #relapseinrecovery #relapseinrecovery #the12stepsexplained #soberquestions #recoveryisworthit

♬ ceilings – Sped Up Version – Lizzy McAlpine

“One person cannot keep another person sober… the Twelfth Step says, ‘…we tried to carry this message…” → graphic (page 22 of the questions and answers on A.A. sponsorship)

Sponsors might face discouragement if they work with a new member who has a slip, or relapse, and returns to their old substance use habits. They might even be tempted to give up on their sponsee. However, slips and relapses give sponsors the opportunity to encourage their sponsee to keep going.

People who experience slips are welcome to continue working with their sponsor. However, the sponsor must remember it’s not their responsibility to make sure their sponsee doesn’t slip or relapse, again. Sponsors are there to motivate, but also hold new members accountable for their own recovery. 

“I try not to work harder for someone’s recovery than they’re willing to work,” Walsh said. “This is a deadly serious disease we’re dealing with. I also understand that I’m not God and I can’t make you better. If I can be of service and help, that’s my job.”

How Do I Know If I’m Ready To Be A Sponsor?

If you’ve been in recovery for over a year and are enjoying life without alcohol and drugs, you’re most likely ready to sponsor someone else’s recovery. Just remember that sponsors guide people through long-term recovery, not do the work for them.

If you or someone you know needs more support beyond what sponsorship offers, call 888-448-0302 to speak to a treatment provider at Landmark Recovery. An admissions specialist is available 24/7 to answer recovery questions. They’ll help you find the appropriate path to long-term recovery through treatment programs like behavioral therapy and outpatient rehab.

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About the Author

Demarco Moore

Demarco Moore

A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, Demarco Moore currently writes blogs about drug addiction treatment and recovery to help save lives at treatment provider Landmark Recovery. Before that, he cut his teeth as a sports writer at the Manchester Times, where his coverage and stories won Tennessee Press Association awards in 2016 and 2017.

He’s always had a knack for storytelling. Moore’s written content for junior golf tournaments and helped to amplify the “People Not Profits” message of credit unions. When he’s not writing, Moore loves to travel, laugh and put his mental health into the hands of the Tennessee Titans during football season.