What Is a Sponsor in AA or NA?
Last Updated Dec 2, 2021
AA and NA sponsors serve the same purpose: to provide mentorship to new 12-step group members.
Joining a 12-step group can often be an overwhelming experience. In many cases, a new member of a 12-step group will walk into an AA or NA meeting and not know what to do.
New 12-step group members are encouraged to link up with a sponsor as soon as possible in order to get help working through the 12 steps. This can help them to avoid relapse and maintain ongoing sobriety.
What Are the 12 Steps?
Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are synonymous with the 12-step program. Ultimately, 12-step recovery consists of attending meetings and working through the Alcoholics Anonymous book, commonly referred to as the Big Book.
The 12 steps of AA and NA include the following:
- Admission to being powerless over alcohol
- Trusting in a higher power
- Turning one’s will and life over to this higher power
- Conducting an inventory of wrongdoings and trespasses
- Admitted the nature of these wrongs
- Having a readiness for one’s higher power to remove shortcomings
- Trusting your higher power to remove character defects
- Making a list of people you’ve harmed
- Making amends to people you’ve harmed
- Continuing to take a personal and moral inventory
- Improving contact with a higher power through spirituality and meditation
- Working to help other people struggling with substance abuse
What Does an AA or NA Sponsor Do?
After meeting and connecting with a sponsor in AA or NA, an individual is encouraged to attend AA or NA meetings every day for the first 90 days of sobriety.
During this time, a sponsor will meet with their sponsee outside of scheduled AA or NA meetings as a way to work through the Big Book and guide the individual through the 12 steps of recovery.
A sponsor will generally task themselves with being available to meet or talk on the phone when their sponsee has questions or experiences challenges in the program. Often, an AA or NA sponsor will not only provide mentorship but also friendship to their sponsee(s).
What Does an AA or NA Sponsor NOT Do?
AA and NA sponsorship can be defined by what a sponsor does and also by what a sponsor does not do.
Typically, AA and NA sponsors avoid the following:
- Taking a sponsee’s personal inventory (unless they are asked to)
- Sharing personal views, beliefs, and opinions that might cause friction
- Performing personal services
- Lending money
While many AA and NA sponsors will share their own personal experiences as a way to connect with their sponsee, this is not required. Some sponsors choose to keep their own history of alcohol and drug use private.
Benefits of Having a Sponsor
Having a sponsor provides a variety of benefits, which include continued guidance, holding the individual accountable for progress, and helping the individual avoid behaviors and situations that can often lead to relapse.
As a new member navigates AA and NA treatment, it helps to have guidance from someone who has been in the program for at least one year. AA or NA members will generally open themselves up to sponsorship after their first year of sobriety, which gives them the opportunity to provide guidance to their sponsee.
AA and NA sponsors are generally very engaged in the lives and progress of their sponsees. Sponsors tend to observe patterns of behavior and attitudes, often sharing their knowledge and experience with sponsees to ensure progress is always being made.
Many AA and NA sponsors have experienced relapse, which gives them unique insights into relapse prevention.
How to Find a Sponsor
Since newcomers in AA and NA are encouraged to find a sponsor as soon as possible, many new members of the program will start with a sponsor and change sponsors during recovery.
The best way to find an AA or NA sponsor is to attend physical AA or NA meetings and listen to members share their experiences, strength, and hope. Newcomers are encouraged to listen in order to find people with backgrounds they can connect with.
It’s a good idea to find a sponsor that provides the right balance of support, motivation, and discipline. In many AA and NA meetings, sponsors are asked to raise their hand if they are willing to provide sponsorship.
Do I Need a Sponsor?
Peer support groups, like 12-step support programs, often stress the sentiment that having a sponsor is a requirement for sobriety. Although there are individuals who can abstain from alcohol and drug use without having a sponsor, working with a sponsor has been shown to be the most effective way to navigate a 12-step program.
What if I Need More Support?
Therapy and detox are often pursued in conjunction with 12-step work to achieve recovery, continued sobriety, and avoid relapse.
Many rehabilitation programs require AA and/or NA meeting attendance as part of their program. While 12-step participation can be a vital support pillar in recovery, it doesn’t take the place of addiction treatment, and it can rarely replicate the deep work that is done in individual therapy.
Taking a multidimensional approach to recovery tends to be the most effective way to treat drug and alcohol addiction. While AA or NA may be an important part of your recovery process, traditional therapy makes up the backbone of addiction care.
12-Step-Based Treatment. (August 2022). Oxford Academic.
Virtual Twelve Step Meeting Attendance During the COVID-19 Period: A Study of Members of Narcotics Anonymous. (April 2022). Journal of Addiction Medicine.
Mathematics for the Masses: Door-to-Door Missionaries of Math and Twelve-Step Recovery Programs. (January 2022). Journal of Humanistic Mathematics.
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