A sponsor is a person who has completed the 12 steps and can help others do the same. Every 12 step recovery program defines sponsorship and the role of sponsor differently. Learn about the role of sponsors in recovery and how to maintain positive, healthy boundaries.


Role of Sponsors

Sponsors vary in roles and definition depending on the program. The following programs use sponsors in a variety of ways:

AA Sponsors

Alcoholics Anonymous focuses on the primary role of a sponsor being to help the person stay sober. Sponsors are encouraged to do whatever is possible to help new members stay sober.

NA Sponsors

Narcotics Anonymous sponsors must be willing to build special, supportive relationships with people in recovery.

GA Sponsors

Gamblers Anonymous sponsors are more loosely defined in that older more experienced members are encouraged to help others. Responsibilities are largely unwritten. Support comes in either a group or one-on-one setting.


What Sponsorship Means

A sponsor can take on any of the following roles in a relationship with a person in recovery:

  • Coach
  • Confidante
  • Guide
  • Leader
  • Mentor
  • Parental figure
  • Teacher

Many 12 step sponsor and sponsee relationships are unique in that the people who come together are bringing individual stories about addiction and recovery. The heart of sponsorship is building trust in a close, safe relationship without judgment or shame. This soul-bearing comes with sharing a moral inventory or list of people harmed and includes other parts of the process which requires openness, vulnerability and ability to share with someone who is able to receive it with open arms.


Friend or Sponsor

A sponsor does not have to become a person’s friend. Whether or not a person builds a bond with the sponsor is based more on personal compatibility than anything else. Sometimes friendship gets in the way of primary work in completing 12 steps. When friendship is appropriate depends on what arises. Sponsorship is working to get something accomplished, a sponsor (or friend) helps the person progress on the path of recovery and whether friendship develops may depend on the people involved. It may be helpful to develop a friendship with the sponsor to build trust, compassion and the ability to see one another for who the other person is in that moment.

One of the downfalls of developing too strong a bond with a sponsor too early in recovery is that it may hinder the recovery progress if the sponsee is still learning about recovery. The sponsor needs to hold space and realize the need for intimate connection is important but also requires boundaries to ensure the sponsee receives necessary feedback and support on the journey.


If you are looking for a sponsor or need help with a drug or alcohol addiction, Hired Power is here to connect you with resources and information. The journey to recovery is best engaged with others. Call us to find out how we can help connect you.

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