According to its website, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an international fellowship of men and women who have or have had a drinking problem. It is nonprofessional, self-supporting, multiracial, apolitical, and available almost everywhere.
There are no education or age requirements to join AA. Membership is open to anybody looking to do something about their drinking problem.
In fact, according to a comprehensive analysis done by a researcher at the Stanford School of Medicine, Alcoholics Anonymous is the most effective path to abstinence.
People in AA have sponsors, a term that is commonly associated with AA. For effective alcohol addiction treatment, a sponsor is extremely helpful.
A sponsor is a senior AA member who has been in recovery for at least one year. Sponsors help others navigate AA, answer questions, work on the 12-steps, and provide accountability.
The sponsor is also a confidant. They understand where the new members have been like nobody else can. New members can confide in their sponsor things they may not feel comfortable disclosing at meetings or to friends, family members, or loved ones. Sponsors offer help and guidance on an individual basis.
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Alcoholics Anonymous started with a sponsorship. Suddenly a powerful urge to drink crashed over Bill W., only a few months sober at this time. The thought came to him about how great it would be to have another alcoholic to talk to in order to fight the urges. Bill found Dr. Bob, who was also desperately trying to stop drinking but was not having much success with his own recovery. Out of their shared need to stop drinking, AA was born.
Unlike other places, AA sponsors and newcomers are seen as equals. An alcoholic who has made progress in their recovery shares their experience regularly with another alcoholic trying to stay sober with AA.
So what does a sponsor do? People must choose AA members to be their sponsor with whom they feel comfortable and with whom they can talk freely and confidentially.
Over the years, AA sponsorship hasn't changed much from Bill and Dr. Bob's days. It's still built on the 12 steps, developed by the two men.
The 12 steps of AA are:
There are so many benefits to having a good sponsor—scientifically-backed benefits and benefits on a more personal level. At the very least, newcomers always have someone to share their thoughts and feelings with when they have a sponsor.
One researcher said that AA works because of the social attraction element. The emotional support and firsthand tips to refrain from drinking from an AA sponsor are crucial recovery elements.
"If you want to change your behavior, find some other people who are trying to make the same change."Keith Humphreys, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences
Becoming an AA sponsor is just as simple as everything else related to AA. There is no sponsor school or class that sponsors have to take. Often, a new member will simply approach a member with a longer length of sobriety than theirs and ask them to be their sponsor. However, sponsoring a newcomer at AA is a big responsibility and an integral part of the AA program.
A sponsor should be committed and dedicated to their sobriety journey, the AA recovery process, and to helping new members on their journey to a life without substance abuse.
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Tonigan, J. S., & Rice, S. L. (2010). Is it beneficial to have an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor? Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 24(3), 397–403. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0019013
Mounting Evidence of the Benefits of 12-step Sponsors. (n.d.). https://www.recoveryanswers.org/research-post/mounting-evidence-of-the-benefits-of-12-step-sponsors/
John F Kelly, Keith Humphreys, Marica Ferri. Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs for alcohol use disorder. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2020; DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD012880.pub2