How to Find a Sponsor in a 12 Step Program [Guide]

If you’re in early recovery and want to know how to find a sponsor, we’ve created this educational resource and guide for you.

Walking into your first 12-step meeting can provoke anxiety; it’s an entirely different world. You’re learning a lot about addiction and how to stay in recovery long-term. You’ll hear lots of new phrases and sayings you’ve never heard before.

One of the most important suggestions given at 12 steps meetings is finding a sponsor. Finding a sponsor is usually not difficult, but there are some things that you’re going to want to consider.

Here’s what to know about finding a sponsor in 12 step recovery programs.

Table of Contents

Understanding the Role of a 12 Step Sponsor

A sponsor is the name given to an individual who becomes one of your first line of defenses in early recovery. Sponsors are those who have gone through the 12 steps and are ready to help take others through them.

Not only do sponsors take newcomers through the 12 steps, but they also act as daily (or at least weekly) support systems. For example, sponsors usually require that you call them at least once a day or any time that you feel like you may be at risk of relapse.

Walking you through the 12 steps of recovery groups such as Alcohol Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous is said to be the most important job of the sponsor. They share their experience, strength, and hope with you during this time.

Overall, sponsors are there to offer you direction and support. Not only will they be there to help you grow in your recovery, but they will also be there to listen. Being able to rely on someone you trust with an understanding ear is particularly important once an urge to drink or use occurs.

A Healthy Sponsor Relationship Looks Like

  • Staying in daily contact and open, comfortable communication
  • Meeting consistently to go through the 12-steps of AA or NA
  • Calling your sponsor when you have the urge to pick up a drink or a drug
  • Celebrating your recovery milestones together

It was easy to pick up the phone and call your dealer or a drinking buddy when you felt like using active addiction. To get out of that routine, your sponsor will hold you accountable and have you call them each day, so you get comfortable picking up the phone when thought to drink or use occurs.

The urge can strike at any time, and having someone to contact can make all the difference.

Your sponsor, over time, may become one of your closest friends. Talking to them each day, sharing stories, and growing together in recovery will create an unbreakable bond between two people.

Many individuals later realize that the relationships built in addiction recovery will be stronger than anything you have ever experienced.

If you don’t have a sponsor, it may be time to find one. After all, having the right support system can mean the difference between life and death in addiction recovery.

Finding a sponsor is simple, but it often takes the trial and error of finding a sponsor that works for you. Compatibility and relatability are important.

Let’s discuss what to look for in an AA sponsor.

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What to Look for in a Sponsor

The first thing you want to look for in a sponsor is someone working a solid and rigorously honest 12 step program which has been abstinent from using drugs and alcohol for a significant amount of time.

Depending on your preferences, recovery time could be one year and up. Although, some individuals may have less time and be just as excellent of a sponsor.

The most important question about a potential sponsor is: has this person completed the steps? 

When listening to people in share in a 12 step meeting, look out for an individual you feel you can relate to, displays a positive attitude towards recovery.

Compatibility is important. Sometimes, it’s important to have a sponsor that has experience with the same drug of choice that you’re struggling with. Each type of addiction has its unique struggles.

Find a sponsor who has good communication qualities and feels open with. Some personalities clash, and your sponsor is not someone you want to clash with.

In meetings, you are going to hear a phrase; “find a sponsor who has what you want.” Finding a sponsor to look up to means you want what they have, to follow in their footsteps in recovery.

Look for an individual you can respect. One of the most important qualities in a sponsor is someone who displays servant leadership. They are humble leaders who also take the time to serve others in recovery.

In your addiction, you probably lost the self-confidence and awareness you once had. That said, it is your sponsor’s job to take what they have and freely give it to you.

Ensure your sponsor shows genuine interest in what you think and feel while maintaining a positive attitude.

A person that preserves a negative attitude toward life and sobriety is a poor choice for a sponsor.

Your sponsor should always have a positive outlook about your recovery and offer constructive criticism as needed. They should always inspire you to partake in service commitments and cheer you on along the way.

Generally, your sponsor needs to be an individual to confide in and relate to during your recovery journey.

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What if it Doesn’t Work Out With My Sponsor?

If you feel something isn’t right or that you’re compatible with your sponsor, it’s time to do some introspection.

Sometimes, we can be critical towards a sponsor that we don’t feel completely meet our standards.

An important question to ask yourself if you doubt your sponsor is, “Is this problem with my sponsor, a problem with me, or an issue of compatibility?”

If you determine that your sponsor isn’t helping you the way you need, it is more than okay to search for a new one. It is vital to have someone you enjoy working with and who makes time for you. It will make working the steps together fun and much easier.

Sponsorship is hugely beneficial to both parties, but sometimes things will go wrong.

What may be a fit for someone else may not be a fit for you. There is nothing wrong with looking for a different individual who walks you through the steps.

Red Flags in 12 Step Sponsors

Not all sponsors are created equal. At times, those in recovery spend their time sponsoring others when they really should be working on themselves.

A few red flags to look out for:

  1.  A sponsor who talks down to you and has a condescending tone.
  2. A sponsor who wants to exert control over your life in an unsettling way should not be tolerated.
  3. A sponsor who tries to get you involved romantically or sexually is a definite red flag.
  4. A sponsor is often unavailable and doesn’t make time to walk you through the steps.
  5. You do not feel comfortable completing certain steps under the sponsor’s guidance.
  6. A sponsor spends more time pointing out your faults than building you up.
  7. A sponsor is more interested in pleasing you and not confronting you rather than telling you the hard truths.
  8. A sponsor shares confidential information that you’ve confided in them to others.

These are just a few red flags to look for in sponsors. Keep in mind there could be other behaviors that are red flags not mentioned here.

How to Approach a Sponsor

When you’ve found someone you are comfortable with and would like to approach, it’s time to take action.

You will need to approach the sponsor after a meeting and ask them if they have any room on their plate for you as a sponsee.

You can say something like, “Hey, I’ve heard your story and feel that we have a lot in common. I could relate and admire where you are in your recovery walk. Would you be interested in taking me on as a sponsee?” 

Normally, if someone is working a program and does not have too many sponsees, they will agree to take you on. You’ll want to exchange contact information.

From that point, you need to establish expectations from your sponsor. Learn about their sponsoring style and ask questions!

A few questions to ask potential sponsors:

  1. Do you require your sponsees to call you every day?
  2. How long does it normally take for you to take someone through the steps?
  3. What’s your sponsor style?
  4. Can you take late-night phone calls?

These are just a few examples of questions that you can ask a potential sponsor to see if it’s a good fit.

Once You Find a Sponsor

Once you’ve done the hard work and found a sponsor, then give it time and see what happens. Start working on your steps together and ensure you have a good connection.

It might feel uncomfortable to share intimate details with your sponsor first as you go through the steps. However, your sponsor should do their best to make you feel comfortable and understood, never judged!

Even if it doesn’t work out with your first sponsor, you can always find another one. Recovery is a road with many paths, and everyone’s path is different!

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Our writers are experienced in everything related to addiction, mental health, rehab and recovery.

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