Dos and Don’ts of Choosing a 12-Step Sponsor

Most experts advise, “Get a sponsor.” But why? And how?

Addicts helping addicts is part of what makes AA/NA so effective. Sponsorship involves one recovering addict walking another through the Steps and helping them stay sober. A sponsor is someone you call when you need emotional support or feel threatened by relapse. They will respond without judgment or criticism by teaching you the language of AA/NA, encouraging you to continue working your recovery program, providing emotional support by staying in regular contact and sharing their experience of recovery.

Working with a sponsor is like any relationship – it requires some navigating in order to be mutually beneficial. Here are a few dos and don’ts to follow when making this important decision:

DO Get a Sponsor
While it is true that not everyone needs a sponsor, most recovering addicts benefit from giving sponsorship a try. A sponsor is in the unique position to understand what you’ve been through and offer their friendship, advice and support when you need it most. There is no such thing as too much support, or too much accountability, in early recovery. Sponsorship guards against many of the problems that contribute to relapse, including isolation and dishonesty. If you’re willing to learn by working the Steps, a sponsor can be an important influence on your continuing sobriety.

DO Choose Wisely
Not all sponsors are an ideal match for a newcomer to AA/NA. Frankly, some should be avoided. Who you put your trust in during the vulnerable early stages of recovery can be critical for your continuing sobriety. Choose someone you relate to, who has had the type of recovery you respect and admire. Don’t shy away from someone who is honest and willing to confront dishonesty or diseased thinking.

The ideal sponsor has at least one year sober, preferably more, and has an active relationship with their own sponsor. In studies, the average sponsor had about 10 years of sobriety and AA attendance and was strongly affiliated with the AA program. While length of time clean is one factor, it is not the only one. Does your sponsor live the 12-Step principles in their own life? Do they already have a number of sponsees? Are they honest and open-minded?

DON’T Make a Rash Decision.
When choosing a sponsor, talk to a number of people and find out if they’re truly living by the program’s principles. Choosing the right match from the start can quickly get you on the road to recovery.

DO Establish and Respect Boundaries
A sponsor is another addict in recovery who is willing to share their experience. They are not an expert in all things. Do not rely on your sponsor for legal, financial, employment or relationship advice outside the scope of the 12-Step program. If they try to provide this type of advice, meddle in your personal life, make specific demands for your thinking or behavior, or try to convince you that they have all the answers, find a new sponsor. Do not, under any circumstances, get romantically involved with your sponsor. This is a set-up for relapse. Protect yourself by choosing a sponsor of the gender you’re not attracted to.

DO Seek Additional Help
A sponsor is not a therapist. They do not have special training; they are not perfect. They are simply fellow addicts in recovery. If you need guidance in other areas, which most recovering addicts do, it is a good idea to see an individual therapist.

DON’T Hesitate to Change Sponsors, if Necessary.
Like all relationships, the sponsor-sponsee combination must be mutually rewarding. Someone who is inspirational and caring in the early stages of recovery may not be as effective when you’re more grounded in your sobriety and need a different type of guidance. It is also possible for sponsors to relapse, in which case finding a new sponsor, at least for the time being, is strongly advisable.

If you feel that your sponsor is not a match for you – not because they are honest and forthright, but because you don’t feel safe or comfortable with them or your philosophies are dramatically different – talk to a few other sponsors and see if there’s a stronger connection. While a change of sponsor is sometimes necessary, be sure you’re not giving up on a worthy mentor just because loving confrontation can be difficult to take or because addictive thinking is causing you to sabotage your recovery.

When you look back on your recovery 5, 10, 20 years down the road, your 12-Step sponsor is likely someone who will stand out as an important part of your journey. Even when your recovery is firmly grounded and you are confident in yourself, your sponsor may continue to be a lifelong friend. They may even be the person you emulate if and when you become a sponsor yourself.

By Promises Treatment Centres 




5 Things to Consider When Choosing an AA Sponsor

by Kerry Nenn for

Who would make a good sponsor for you? How can you tell? What can you do to find out?

These are all great questions to ask. Finding the right sponsor can be a key part of your recovery process, so you’ll want to take some time and make the best choice for your sobriety.

Picking the Right Sponsor

When the time comes, the following are important factors you’ll want to consider when choosing your AA sponsor.

#1 Gender

For men and women in early recovery, getting into a new romantic relationship is not recommended…at least for the first year. The reasoning behind this guideline is simple: you’ll have enough going on with yourself and maintaining your sobriety post-rehab.

Combining the emotional ups and downs of a new relationship with your recovery can quickly create relapse triggers, ultimately setting you up for a relapse.

That’s why AA recommends choosing a sponsor of your own gender, which will help keep your focus exactly where it needs to be – on recovery.

#2 Key Qualifications

When you’re looking to find an AA sponsor, it helps to write down some questions before you speak to the potential candidates.

Can a potential sponsor answer yes to the following?

  • Have you worked the 12 Steps?
  • Do you have a sponsor?
  • Does your sponsor allow you to sponsor?

If he or she answers “no” to any of these three questions, they’re probably not the sponsor you’re looking for right now.

For someone to sponsor you, they need to have worked the steps themselves. If they don’t have a sponsor, or their sponsor is not recommending they sponsor others, there could be issues going on behind the scenes that would potentially inhibit the relationship.

#3 Personality

Here’s a look at two sponsor personality factors you’ll want to consider:

  • Are they enjoying life in recovery? A good sponsor experiences laughter and enjoyment in life. It’s not all sunshine, but some joy should be present. Do they smile? Laugh? Try visiting them at home. See what they are like with their family. This will give you a better idea of what things are really like to know if they will be a good sponsor.
  • Can you relate to them? Perhaps surprisingly, it’s actually a good thing if you can’t. You don’t always need a sponsor you can completely relate to….you need someone who has gotten past where you are. It’s hard for someone to help you get to the other side if they have never left your shore.

#4 Number of Sponsees

How many sponsees does your potential sponsor already have? If they have several, this probably indicates they are a good sponsor. However, too many sponsees can spread them thin and make the relationship less effective.

That’s not to say you need a sponsor who pledges to be available to you and only you 24-hours a day, focusing every ounce of his or her time on you and your sobriety…those are promises that no one can humanly keep. However, you do want to discuss your potential sponsor’s realistic availability and then set up some communication ground rules.

#5 Service Involvement

Is this person going out of their way for others? Are they welcoming to newcomers? Do they volunteer in any way?

Someone who is active in service work is good sponsor material. Giving back and helping others tends to provide recovering addicts with a sense of peace and pleasure – something that was totally missing during active addiction. If your potential sponsor truly enjoys giving back and seeing others succeed in sobriety, that’s a good sign.

Ultimately, there are no hard and fast rules to sponsorship. Every person and situation is unique. However, considering these key factors will help to provide a solid and sober foundation as you choose an AA sponsor.


“A sponsor is a volunteer who is currently practicing the 12-step program of recovery espoused by Alcoholics Anonymous (or an other 12-step mutual help group such as Narcotics Anonymous or Cocaine Anonymous) and who helps the newer AA member by providing support, encouragement, and guidance to promote sustained long-term recovery” – Research Recovery Institute

Sponsor Finder will be open to all those seeking sobriety – not just those in AA.  You will be able to select a volunteer among those selected for you based on your profile and together,  you and your sponsor can create goals and objectives, discuss coping strategies, and other life skills to help you live life on life’s terms – sober.

Sponsor Finder will have resources for you to help you determine what you may want to look for in a sponsor, suggestions for your first few meetings, workbook links, self-help tools and resources, and even ways to “break-up” with your sponsor and move on to a new one (because in sobriety, we all grow and – as we grow – our needs change).


Sponsorship tree