Substance Use

What Is a Sponsor in Rehab? Drug & Alcohol Sponsors, Explained

sponsor congratulating sponsee in aa meeting

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Rehabilitation from substance abuse is a journey, often fraught with challenges and setbacks. One thing that can make this journey less isolating and more manageable is the presence of a sponsor. Their personal experiences can provide support to you in a way that others cannot.

Embarking on the journey to recovery from drug and alcohol addiction can be a challenging and often overwhelming process. For many people, having a sponsor during this critical time can make a profound difference in their recovery journey.

A sponsor is a sober individual who has undergone similar experiences and provides:

  • Guidance
  • Support
  • Accountability to those navigating the path to sobriety

Here, we’ll look at the role of a sponsor in rehab. We’ll talk about what they are and how they can be instrumental in your journey to recovery.

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What is a Sponsor?

A sponsor is typically a person who has successfully navigated their own journey of recovery from substance abuse and wants to help others achieve the same. They are volunteers who willingly offer their time, experience, and support to those currently in the rehab process.

This sharing of personal experiences is what makes the sponsor’s role unique and highly beneficial for those in recovery.

It’s important to know that while sponsors can help you in your recovery, they are not professional therapists or counselors. Their role is more of a mentor or supportive friend, someone who understands the journey because they’ve walked it themselves.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Sponsor

An AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) sponsor is someone in the AA fellowship who has maintained sobriety and is willing to guide and support new members toward recovery. The AA sponsor’s role is rooted in the 12-step program of AA, where they help the sponsee (the person being sponsored) work through each step.

In essence, an AA sponsor serves as a role model, showing that it is indeed possible to live a fulfilling life without alcohol.

Narcotics Anonymous (NA) Sponsor

An NA (Narcotics Anonymous) sponsor, much like an AA sponsor, is a person who has maintained a period of abstinence from drugs and is willing to guide and support new members in their recovery journey. The NA sponsor’s role is based on the 12-step program of NA, where they assist the sponsee in working through each step.

Just like with AA, NA sponsors encourage active participation in NA meetings and other recovery activities. They offer emotional support during challenging times, celebrate successes along the way, and are a role model for sober living.

What are the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous?

The 12 Steps are the practical guidelines for self-improvement that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) recommends. They are the same 12 steps you’ll find with Narcotics Anonymous (NA):

  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. We’re 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 a Drug and Alcohol Sponsor

One of the main benefits of a sponsor is having someone who can offer firsthand knowledge of recovery. Having a sponsor can make the recovery journey less lonely and more manageable.

Here are just a few benefits of having a sponsor.

Avoiding Relapse

A sponsor can help identify potential triggers and develop strategies to avoid them. Their experience allows them to anticipate challenges that you might not see coming. In doing so, they can help you prevent relapse.


One of the key roles of a sponsor in rehab is providing guidance. This can take many forms, from helping you navigate the 12 Steps to advising on how to rebuild relationships damaged by addiction.

Sponsors also encourage you to stay connected with your recovery community. Regular attendance at AA or other support group meetings can be a powerful tool in preventing relapse. It’s a regular reminder of your commitment to sobriety and a source of ongoing support.


When you know that someone else is aware of your goals and progress, it’s harder to slip back into old patterns. A sponsor provides this accountability, regularly checking in on your progress and encouraging you to stay committed.

A sponsor is not there to judge or criticize. Their role is to support and encourage, providing a safe space for you to share your struggles and successes.

Sober Living

Sober living is not just about the absence of substances; it’s about the presence of positive experiences and relationships. A sponsor can help you discover these, drawing on their own experiences and the wisdom of the 12 Steps.

The sponsor-sponsee relationship is shaped by trust, respect, and confidentiality. It’s a bond that transcends regular friendships or professional relationships, anchoring on shared experiences and the common goal of sobriety. 

The sponsor provides a safe space for the sponsee to express their thoughts, fears, and doubts, and offers guidance based on their own recovery journey. This unique relationship empowers you to face your addiction head-on and instills the hope and courage needed to stay on the path to recovery.

Though different from a professional therapeutic relationship, the sponsor-sponsee relationship is equally important in the recovery journey.

How Often Do Sponsors Meet With Their Sponsees?

In the beginning stages of recovery, you may need more frequent contact with your sponsor as they navigate the challenges and uncertainties that come with sobriety. During this time, the sponsor serves as a crucial support system, providing guidance, reassurance, and practical strategies to cope with cravings and avoid relapses. 

As the sponsee gains more confidence and stability in their recovery journey, the meetings may become less frequent but still consistent.

When Should I Choose My Sponsor?

Choosing a sponsor early in your recovery can provide the guidance and support you need to navigate the initial challenges of sobriety. But it’s equally important not to rush into choosing a sponsor. 

Take your time to observe potential sponsors, understand their approach to recovery, and determine if their experiences and outlook align with your recovery goals. The goal isn’t to find a perfect sponsor, but to find someone you can relate with and who can fully support you.

How Should I Choose My Sponsor?

Choosing a sponsor begins with understanding what you need in a sponsor. Do you need someone who’s assertive and straightforward or someone who’s more gentle and nurturing? 

A good sponsor should be someone who:

  • Has successfully navigated the path to sobriety
  • Has a solid understanding of the 12-step program
  • Offers experience, strength, and hope
  • Represents a recovery journey that inspires you

It’s also important to consider the potential sponsor’s availability and commitment. They should be someone who’s readily available, willing to spend time with you, and committed to supporting you through your recovery journey.


Through their lived experiences, sponsors provide guidance, support, and inspiration, helping people in rehab navigate the challenges of recovery and live a fulfilling, substance-free life. The journey of recovery can be a difficult one, but with the support of a sponsor, it can certainly be a little less daunting.

Author: Giselle Leung, PharmD, BCGP. Giselle is a practicing pharmacist with over 9 years of experience in the community and long-term care pharmacy settings; and a freelance medical writer. She earned her PharmD from the University of the Pacific Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy in 2014. She is a Board-Certified Geriatric Pharmacist (BCGP), who focuses on the complex medication needs of older adults.


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