People sitting in circle share problems during psychological rehab session

12-step programs have been an established part of addiction recovery stemming from the original steps written in 1938 for the group Alcoholics Anonymous. While the 12-step programs have been adjusted to accommodate different types of individuals and situations, the basis has remained the same due to its track record of success.

Programs that focus on personal growth are often more successful due to the link between self-efficacy and the ability to overcome the cravings and impulses that addiction creates. Done in a group setting, 12-step programs give each member new insights into how the struggle with addiction can be different between every person.

What a Sponsor Does in a 12-Step Program

A 12-step sponsor is an individual that has successfully been sober for multiple years and is looking to help others going through the same struggles they once did. Sponsors don’t have a set list of activities or tasks to complete during their time spent as a mentor due to the unique needs of each mentee.

Having a one-on-one relationship with a sponsor can help 12-step participants take what they’ve learned in meetings and apply it to their lives. It also helps build a more genuine bond with someone that exhibits the behaviors a member will want to emulate.

The primary role of a 12-step sponsor is to help their sponsee complete the 12-step program through education, accountability, support and discussion. By making the 12-step program easy to understand, sponsors make recovery more approachable for those recovering from addiction.

Sponsors Understand the Long-Term Needs of Recovery

The reason sponsors are individuals who have been through the program and stayed sober for several years is that they will have an understanding of how the recovery journey actually goes. Friends and family can always offer helpful advice or support, but it’s impossible to understand what someone is going through in the face of addiction.

Sponsors will help their sponsees learn how to adjust to sober living and build better relationships with healthy boundaries. They also offer an outlet for sponsees to voice their concerns and talk through intrusive or impulsive thoughts.

Another skill that veterans of 12-step programs have is the ability to see through any excuses or lies that a sponsee may try to use in an effort to either skip out on meetings or hide continued substance abuse.

Sponsors Are Both Mentors and Role Models

Being surrounded by others going through similar trials and tribulations can make an individual feel less isolated and give them motivation seeing that their story can indeed have a happy ending. Sponsors are the poster children of 12-step programs meaning they exhibit the behaviors and morals taught in the program.

Even if sponsees are hesitant to commit to sobriety or start to stray from the path, sponsors are there to nudge them back in the right direction. Giving 12-step members a sense of accountability from someone who has been in their shoes makes the gentle pushes from the sponsor feel genuine and focused on the member, not just their sobriety.

Being able to be a successful sponsor means building trust with each sponsee. They will act as a confidant, life coach and friendly voice of reason for every member they work with. Many participants have little to no healthy relationships outside of their environment of substance abuse. In this capacity, sponsors are often the first positive relationship they have after getting out of a toxic environment.

12-Step Sponsors Aren’t All-Encompassing

One important note to make is that sponsors, while offering mentorship through all of the 12-step process, aren’t qualified to help with everything that comes with recovery. Sponsees that need any form of cognitive behavioral therapy, financial advice, legal assistance or spiritual guidance will have to look outside of their sponsor.

That being said, sponsors are committed to helping sponsees get through the program and can help them find the additional resources to fit the needs of each individual. They create healthy boundaries to help make sure sponsees don’t become dependent on their help and instead encourage them to look inward for the answers only they can truly have.

Not everyone will need a sponsor to win their battle with addiction, but if someone you know is working with a sponsor you need to respect the relationship that forms and not intrude or try to insert yourself in the middle of it. The best way you can help is offer support when it’s asked for and let your loved ones find their way down the road to recovery.

If you want to learn more about addiction recovery or have concerns about a loved one, don’t hesitate to reach out to our recovery specialists for a no-obligation consultation.