How Important is Sponsorship in Addiction Recovery?

While having a sponsor is considered a de facto requirement for staying sober by many that have some time in recovery, is it actually necessary in order for someone to be successful in recovery?

A Rewarding Relationship

For those in early recovery, sponsorship quickly becomes a topic of conversation. They are told by others to find a sponsor and begin working with them as soon as possible. In early recovery this can be a daunting task, especially if there is little understanding about what a sponsor is and should be. This brings up a commonly asked question, what is the role of sponsorship in addiction recovery and do I even need one? The primary purpose and responsibility of a sponsor is to help another individual work the Twelve Steps associated with a twelve-step program. Sponsorship is often considered one of the most rewarding relationships developed in addiction recovery.

What is a Sponsor?

In many ways, a sponsor is like a good friend, a mentor and an experienced guide on the path to recovery. A sponsor is someone who has suffered from addiction and has experienced recovery by working the Twelve Steps as outlined in the Twelve Step Program. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotic Anonymous (NA) are both 12-step recovery programs for people suffering from alcohol and drug addiction. A sponsor’s primary responsibility is to help a sponsee work the Twelve Steps in whatever recovery program they have chosen to participate in. While sponsorship can be an extremely rewarding experience, it can also be a scary experience during the early stages of addiction recovery. This relationship requires the addict to be honest, vulnerable and divulge truths about their drinking or using experiences to their chosen sponsor. This may be the first time an addict is truly honest with another human being about the exact nature of their disease. Being vulnerable with another individual is no easy task, but it is essential in developing the necessary foundation for long-term recovery. For many in early recovery, the vulnerability that starts to develop in the relationship is a totally new experience. It is this honesty that starts to lay the foundation for a powerful relationship that can be integral to recovery.

What is the Role of a Sponsor?

The primary role of a sponsor is to help their sponsee work the Twelve Steps by providing explanation, guidance, understanding and encouragement. A Twelve Step sponsor can provide various other vital functions throughout the recovery process. Here are some of the important functions a sponsor provides:

– A sponsor is a good source of information about recovery.

– A sponsor can provide valuable insight about their experiences in life without drugs or alcohol.

– A sponsor can provide motivation and encouragement that an individual may need to work the twelve steps.

– A sponsor is someone who is available to listen and provide support when needed.

– A sponsor is someone who can hold their sponsee accountable by offering suggestions and advice.

– A sponsor serves as a friend, teacher or role model.

– A sponsor is a living example of how to function and achieve recovery from addiction.

– A sponsor can help to explain basic concepts, terminology and introduce that individual to other members.

– A sponsor can help a sponsee to understand the program more quickly.

– A sponsor is a safe person whom a sponsee can trust.

– A sponsor encourages a sponsee to read the Twelve-Step Program literature and engage in service work.

– A sponsor can help to explain and encourage a sponsee to apply the Twelve Step Principles in their life.

– A sponsor is available in times of crisis.

– A sponsor helps to provide practice in building and maintaining healthy relationships.

What is NOT the Role of a Sponsor

While a sponsor serves many purposes, it can also be easy to get them confused for something that they are not. Knowing the difference between a sponsor and a professional worker is key to building a successful relationship. If you are interested in learning more about this distinction, check out our blog post on the subject. What a sponsor does not do is as important as what a sponsor does do. In order to help eliminate common misconceptions about sponsorship, here are some things a sponsor cannot or should not do:

– A sponsor is not a therapist, psychiatrist or psychologist.

– A sponsor cannot keep a sponsee in recovery from addiction.

– A sponsor should not try to control a sponsee’s life or establish unhealthy dependence.

– A sponsor should not take advantage of a sponsee.

If any of these things should occur in a sponsorship relationship, that individual should terminate the relationship and find another sponsor immediately.

Sponsorship and Relapse Prevention

A sponsor can be an invaluable resource when an individual feels the urge to drink or use. If an individual feels at risk of relapse, it is recommended that before they make this devastating decision they reach out to their sponsor immediately. Although a sponsor cannot physically stop a sponsee from drinking or using, based on experience, a sponsor has the unique ability to provide the best chance at dissuading the decision to relapse. Often times, being heard and understood can discourage an addict from making the decision to relapse.

Is it Necessary?

Ultimately, in recovery there are very few things that are black and white – there are some tried and true suggestions however, that prove successful time and time again. One of these is having an active, working relationship with a sponsor. Addicts are by nature defiant, and have a tendency towards making rash decisions that are usually motivated by self. This is a quality that follows into sobriety, and one that necessitates having an outside source to run thinking through and bounce ideas off of. A sponsor provides this crucial support and background of wisdom that is so key for individuals in recovery who are actively working to stay sober.

Do you have any experience working with a sponsor? What about trying to stay sober without one? Share your story with us below!

Last Updated on February 21, 2024


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