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Overview: What is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?

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.

What is an AA Sponsor?

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, attain or maintain sobriety, 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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How Does a Sponsorship Work?

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.

People must choose AA members to be their sponsors 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:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

 Benefits of Having An AA Sponsor

For recovering alcoholics in the AA program, there are several benefits associated with having an AA sponsor. These are the following:

  • When people are new to AA meetings, their sponsor is critical. They can see that at least one other person understands what they are going through, what they have been through, and what they're going to go through from personal experience in terms of alcoholism and recovery. The sponsor draws off their own recovery and their own sobriety and is an invaluable resource for the newcomer. 
  • New members have someone to ask questions or confide in without judgment. 
  • Sponsorship fosters a deeper bond between the sponsor and sponsee. It provides an understanding, sympathetic friend whenever a new member needs one most.
  • A sponsor helps improve substance use outcomes. A study found that at one-month post AA treatment, people with a sponsor were 33 or 50% more likely to not return to drug use, compared to those without a sponsor. People with sponsors also had a slightly greater likelihood of staying away from alcohol than those without a sponsor.
  • Accountability. The sponsor's role is to hold the newcomer accountable, especially when urges to drink get strong. The sponsor regularly monitors the sponsee's progress in the recovery period. The newcomer knows their sponsor is just a call away, even in the most difficult times. 
  • Provide sober resources. Newcomers to sober life will not have many sober resources; that's where a good sponsor comes in. They will provide all kinds of resources for sobriety, from literature to podcasts and prayers.
  • Source of motivation. Everyone can use a little extra motivation now and then. A sponsor is a perfect motivator because they are a living example of what recovery looks like and how a newcomer can attain it.
  • A sponsor will help the newcomer work through the twelve steps. This is especially important for an alcoholic who is attempting to recover.
  • A sponsor understands firsthand the importance of sponsorship because they have also been on the receiving end. This leads to compassion and understanding.

Is an AA Sponsor Necessary?

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

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How to Find a Sponsor

AA members should be able to find their own AA sponsors. In order to find one, an AA member can simply approach someone and ask them to be their AA sponsor. However, one must make sure that the person they ask to be a sponsor must meet certain criteria.

The potential AA sponsor must be:

  • A recovering alcoholic who displays stability in sobriety
  • A recovering alcoholic who has gone a long way in their addiction recovery journey
  • A recovering alcoholic who can take on the responsibilities of an AA sponsor
  • A recovering alcoholic who is confident in their ability to be a sponsor

How to Become an AA Sponsor

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. They should be able to guide someone attempting to attain sobriety. An alcoholic who wants to get sober and stay sober would benefit a lot from having an AA sponsor.

Other Types of Addiction Treatment

The best type of addiction treatment depends on your personal needs, overall health, and lifestyle. If one model of treatment doesn't work, you can always try another recovery program. The most important thing is that you ask for help. Overcoming addiction is always easier with a support system in place.

Click to learn more about the most effective types of addiction treatment:

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Resources

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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. 

"Mounting Evidence of the Benefits of 12-step Sponsors." Recovery Research Institute.

John F Kelly, Keith Humphreys, Marica Ferri. "Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs for alcohol use disorder." Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2020.

Paul J. P. Whelan et al. "The Role of AA Sponsors: A Pilot Study." Alcohol and Alcoholism, Volume 44, Issue 4, July-August 2009, Pages 416–422.

Witbrodt, Jane et al. “Does sponsorship improve outcomes above Alcoholics Anonymous attendance? A latent class growth curve analysis.” Addiction (Abingdon, England) vol. 107,2 (2012): 301-11.

"What Makes AA Work?." The Harvard Gazette.

 

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