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How to Pick the Right 12-Step Sponsor in Recovery

by | Last updated Oct 2, 2020 at 2:18PM | Published on Mar 16, 2020 | Drug Addiction


A sponsor is by far the most symbolic person you’ll meet in a 12-step program. Beyond your therapists and recovering friends, a sponsor is someone who will stay with you for the long run and become your ally in the recovery process. Use this quick guide to pick the right 12-step sponsor.

What is a 12-Step Sponsor?

In recovery from addiction, countless people choose to get involved in a support 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. These groups help by offering support, accountability, and a plan of action for recovering addicts and alcoholics. 

Part of the process includes obtaining a twelve-step sponsor. Generally, this is another sober person who helps to guide someone through working the twelve-steps.

A sponsor is someone to call when you’re struggling, offering suggestions, support, and another perspective on many dilemmas in recovery.

What exactly makes someone an excellent twelve-step sponsor, however? And how do you pick the right person? While it’s different for everyone, knowing what to look for in a sponsor can make this decision a positive step towards recovery, rather than a source of stress.

Person Standing Near Brown Welcome on Board-printed Floor Map

What Does a 12-Step Sponsor Do?

Twelve-step sponsors are other people in recovery who volunteer their time to help other addicts and alcoholics. What this means is that they don’t offer therapy, social services, or medical treatment.

A sponsor’s primary job is to guide newcomers through the twelve steps. The twelve steps involve helping sponsees take an inventory of their relationships, make amends to those they have harmed, develop a spiritual connection, and challenge bad habits or “character defects.” As a result, addicts will learn how to stay sober through anything, per the programming.

Twelve-step sponsors also offer support and accountability, but they don’t “manage” your life. They are there to offer suggestions, support, and a method of practicing spiritual principles to stay sober.

What Sponsors Don’t Do

You must understand what sponsors are not meant to do or act. A sponsor is a trusting person, someone who should help you throughout recovery.

However, there are some things sponsors can’t do. For example, they can’t keep you in recovery. Even when they try their hardest to keep you away from relapse, the only one who can prevent that is you. 

Sponsors are not therapists either. A sponsor can keep you accountable, help you avoid triggers, and do their best to remain calm when you’re struggling. However, if you’re struggling with your mental health, you should try to reach out to your former therapists or a mental health provider for assistance.

Most importantly, make sure your sponsor is not trying to control you or taking advantage of you. If you feel they’re doing this at any point, walk away from the relationship. 

Men in Group Meeting

What Should I Look For in a Sponsor?

Everyone needs something different in their recovery because each person is unique. Some may need a 12-step sponsor who pushes them and takes a “tough love” approach, while others require a gentle, loving support person. But there are some everyday things to look for when choosing a sponsor. Some qualities that make an excellent sponsor include:

  • Someone you can relate to
  • A person who has the kind of life you would like to build in recovery- if they have the sort of relationships, career, or perspective you are looking to develop, they may be able to guide you towards those goals
  • Honesty and integrity
  • Enough sober time. The length of time they have isn’t the most important thing, but it is essential to work with someone experienced in staying sober through a range of challenges because they can bring that experience to the table in helping you.
  • Someone who has the time and energy to dedicate to helping. It’s essential to reach out to your sponsor when you’re struggling and know that they are available to help

While a sponsorship relationship looks different for everyone, finding an honest person who has experience in recovery is an excellent start to picking the right sponsor.

The Sponsor-Sponsee Relationship

The sponsor-sponsee relationship is an extraordinary one that will continue to evolve. Most sponsees are new to recovery and are still struggling with their addiction and a sober lifestyle. Sponsors are there to become their guidance and compass towards this new life. 

However, sponsees can also provide support to their sponsors. For the relationship to be successful, it needs to provide value both ways. Remember, sponsors, are substance abuse survivors themselves experiencing similar struggles and triggers.

Most importantly, the sponsor-sponsee relationship is not set in stone. At any time, you can switch sponsors until you find the right one. On that same note, a sponsor can always drop their title if they believe they’re not the right sponsor for you.  

Two Person in Long-sleeved Shirt Shakehand

Where to Find a Sponsor 

Finding a sponsor is not as easy as most people think, especially when you’re trying to find the right one. The most accessible spot to find a sponsor is in your AA or AN meetings. Most of the time, people who went through the program are encouraged to become sponsors, so it’s a straightforward option for many. 

Some people have family members or friends who’re also recovering addicts. If you believe they can become your sponsor, ask them. Having a close family member or friend, keeping you accountable, and helping you through your recovery long-term has many benefits. 

Finally, if you’re struggling to find a sponsor, you should ask your recovery treatment center. Rehab facilities can recommend either a therapist or a well-known sponsor that they believe might be right for you. After all, they were with you throughout your treatment and recovery journey. 

When Should I Get a 12-Step Sponsor?

Many people believe that getting a twelve-step sponsor is the very first thing you should do in recovery. There is certainly a case to be made for this- getting started sooner means moving more quickly from addiction to recovery.

However, if you find that you are unable to stop using or drinking, you may need more support than a sponsor. As stated earlier, sponsors don’t provide therapy or medical treatment. For someone in active addiction, treatment is usually necessary.

Woman in Gray Top Using Her Mobile Phone

Getting the Help You Need

If you are starting your recovery journey and you are struggling, help is available. Professional treatment can help someone build a strong foundation for lifelong recovery. If you think you need help getting started, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Our staff is ready and able to offer support, guidance, and help in finding the right treatment program for you. We work with many recovering addicts to find their perfect sponsor and learn their roles as sponsees. Plus, we can help you talk to other people in the program to learn more about the sponsor-sponsee relationship and find the right one. 

Contact us today to learn more about our treatment programs, including our aftercare programs designed to help recovering addicts stay clean and sober long-term. 



Molly is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Case Manager and Vocational Services. She has a Bachelor’s in International Relations, is a Certified Addiction Counselor, and it’s currently working towards her Master’s in Social Work. Molly’s experience allows her to provide expert knowledge about solution-based methods to help people in recovery maintain long-term sobriety.
Medical Disclaimer:

Lighthouse Recovery Institute aims to improve the quality of life for anyone struggling with substance use or mental health disorder. We provide fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their outcomes. The material we publish is researched, cited, edited, and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide in our posts is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be used in place of the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider.

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