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Sponsorship In Alcoholics Anonymous

Updated on October 8, 2013

“Whenever anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help I want the hand of AA always to be there and for that, I am responsible.” The words of AA founder Bill Wilson explaining the fundamental role of a sponsor in Alcoholics Anonymous.

Sponsorship began when the program of AA began. Bill Wilson, hanging on to his sobriety by his fingernails, decided that he needed to talk to another alcoholic or he would begin drinking once more. He found that alcoholic in Dr. Bob, a seemingly hopeless alcoholic who had been trying, unsuccessfully, for years to stop drinking. Wilson explained his ideas about how to stop drinking and the program was born. From there Bill and Dr. Bob went out and found other alcoholics with whom they shared the principles and eventually the steps and by so doing they became the first sponsors in Alcoholics Anonymous.

I have been a sponsor for years now and I can tell you that I take that responsibility very seriously just as I take alcoholism very seriously. We are talking about life and death matters when we speak of sponsorship and alcoholism. When I agree to be someone’s sponsor I am agreeing to help them combat a deadly disease and to help them find an answer and solution to a nightmare that has invaded every aspect of their life. In most cases I am dealing with a human being who has been broken down emotionally, physically and psychologically and they are asking me to help. If that is not a serious matter then I don’t know what is.

Being a sponsor is, in fact, a life and death matter and it is a role that takes its toll on a sponsor emotionally. You see, more often than not, our sponsees will relapse and some will die upon relapsing and that, my friends, is frightening. On several occasions I have reached out a hand to help, had that hand grasped in a death grip, worked for months to pave a path of sobriety, only to have that person relapse and die.

On the other hand, there have been enough success stories to feed my soul for a lifetime, and knowing that there is the possibility of success is all it takes to continue reaching out.

So what, specifically, is the role of a sponsor in Alcoholics Anonymous?

The author has been a sponsor for many years.
The author has been a sponsor for many years. | Source

What Does a Sponsor Do?

In layman’s terms the sponsor helps a struggling alcoholic to find the solution as explained in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. If you have read my other articles about alcoholism you will know that helping someone to stop drinking is only the first of many steps necessary to find happiness. The most difficult undertaking is teaching an alcoholic how to change their life AND change who and what they are so that they have no desire to ever drink again. Alcohol is only a symptom of a much bigger problem and that problem is the alcoholic. For years an alcoholic uses alcohol to hide from reality, to cope with the knowledge that they are unhappy with themselves. This underlying problem is what needs to be addressed once alcohol is out of their physical system and they are able to tackle the bigger issues.

A sponsor guides his or her sponsee through the steps and principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. Those steps and principles are detailed in the Big Book; there is no reason for me to list them here; you can find them at and In them you will find a way of life that has helped millions of suffering alcoholics over the years and they are the guide to live by in the Program.

A sponsor helps the sponsee to become part of the Fellowship of AA, encouraging the sponsee to attend meetings, become a part of the fellowship and to provide service to others. The sponsor is there always to answer questions and provide support while the sponsee learns to at first take baby steps in sobriety and eventually to take larger strides towards a personal freedom. The sponsor is a mentor, a friend and a sounding board, and a good one can make the difference between life and death; a bad one can also mean the difference between life and death. Although I have always said that drinking is a choice it is still crucial to have the kind of support a sponsor can give as an alcoholic makes their way through sobriety. We all need support in life; we all need to feel that we are understood and that we are not taking on this life by ourselves and a good sponsor provides that much-needed support.

Living the good life today
Living the good life today | Source

Qualifications of a Sponsor

Since a sponsor will be guiding a sponsee through the Twelve Steps, Twelve Principles and Twelve Traditions, it is strongly suggested that the sponsor practice those things in all their affairs. How can one properly teach that which they have no experience in? Furthermore, it is strongly suggested that the sponsor be a living example of those steps, principles and tradition. I have known sponsors who have not completed the Steps and yet attempted to teach those Steps to a newcomer. I have known sponsors who preached forgiveness and yet held resentments in their own life. Remember, a sponsor is supposed to be a living, walking, breathing example of the Program.

Nowhere is it written that a sponsor should be sober for a certain amount of time before becoming a sponsor but it is suggested that they have a solid foundation of their own before attempting to take on such responsibility. A year of quality sobriety is often mentioned as a good guide but it is completely arbitrary. In my time I have met many alcoholics with five, ten and fifteen years of sobriety who were not living the Program. On the other hand I have seen those who completely embraced the Program in six months. Again, quality of sobriety (not to be confused with length of sobriety) should be the determining factor.

It is strongly suggested that a sponsor only work with a sponsee of the same sex. Far too many complications are possible and in fact probable when a person is working with someone of the opposite sex. I have witnessed many a Program romance that ended disastrously and led to the relapse of sponsor and sponsee. It simply is not worth the risk despite the best of intentions. We should not go to AA meetings to find a date; that’s what is for. Alcoholics Anonymous is for saving and restoring lives and although many consider a meeting of AA to be their own personal dating service that is not and never will be the purpose of this Program.

What a Sponsor Is Not

A sponsor is not a personal banker for the sponsee. We are not there to lend money nor are we there to pay off some bills until the newcomer gets back on their feet. I have had newcomers ask me for a loan and I have turned them down flat.

A sponsor is not a landlord. We are not there to provide housing for the homeless and we are not a food bank for the hungry. By extension we are not a rent-a-car service or a personal chauffeur. We are not marriage counselors or job providers and we most certainly are not physicians. We have no business dispensing wisdom about prescription drugs, divorce, taxes or the raising of children.

We have one job and one job only: to help a suffering alcoholic work the Program and learn to live a happy life without alcohol.

A happy and peaceful ending
A happy and peaceful ending

My Personal Thoughts

As I stated earlier, the job of sponsorship is one I take as seriously as life and death. If I do not have the time to properly devote my energies then I will decline the offer to be someone’s sponsor. If I am not feeling secure because of my own emotional problems I will decline the offer.

If I feel that a sponsee if not serious about this business I will decline the offer. There are enough alcoholics out there who have been beaten down and are ready to do the necessary work, so why would I waste my time on someone who is not willing to treat this seriously? If that sounds harsh or cold then so be it, but I am being asked by someone to invest my emotions, heart and soul into changing their lives so the least I can expect is that they are willing to do the same. I have had far too many sponsees do a half-assed effort, relapse and die. When that happens a part of me suffers and today I choose to pick my sponsees very carefully. Just because someone asks for help does not mean they are serious about doing the work, so I interview beforehand to try to obtain an accurate reading on the seriousness of the sponsee. If, after that interview, they are satisfied with me and I with them, then we can begin to form a team to tackle the task at hand.

For those of you out there who are struggling with this disease I wish you happiness. The solution is out there waiting for you but you need to make up your mind how badly you want it. Millions in the world today were at one time hopeless but made the choice to find a better way. If you truly choose to find a better life and you want my help then reach out and I will grab you. As a recovering alcoholic it is my responsibility to do so.

2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

If you are interested in purchasing my new Kindles book about alcoholism then please visit this site


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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Shelly, the quick answer is yes, they are supposed to be unbiased and they are never supposed to communicate with anyone else about their sponsee. Best wishes to you and I hope things work out.

    • profile image

      Shelly 4 years ago

      My boyfriend is an alcoholic..his sponsor is very close to his family...aren't sponsors supposed to be neutral and unbiased and not communicating with a sponsee's family and telling them things that are told to him by his sponsee???

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Joe, that's for your wife's sponsor to discover, and if she is any good she will.

    • profile image

      joe 4 years ago

      should I use my wife's phone to tell her sponsor that she was drunk when speaking to them?

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Mary, I'm not a lawyer but that's where I would start. Females with male sponsors....bad combination for exactly this reason. Talk to a lawyer and see if there is anything that can be done, and I'm truly sorry your sister ran into this guy.

    • profile image

      Mary 4 years ago

      A Question for everyone: My sister met her sponsor in jail. He took her home. My father died and left my sister $$$. He took $$ to redo his home. They also bought cars, a truck, and a travel trailer. My dad's cars were put in his name because of her DUI's all in the name of "we are getting married". They have been putting all household items on her credit card and he pays the minimum payment each month. Now that she is broke (and still an alcoholic), he is throwing her out. what can she do? This has all happened in 5 years

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Jennifer and welcome to HubPages. Glad to see you hear and congrats on your six years of sobriety. Life is good my new friend. :)

    • Jennifer Bart profile image

      Jennifer Bart 5 years ago from Texas

      Great Article! Very informative. I myself am in recovery I will be celebrating 6 years clean and sober on may 30. I love that you are raising awareness and in my opinion every one new in recovery should read this because having a qualified sponsor who has worked a program is so important to recovery!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Anne! I appreciate you stopping by.

    • profile image

      Anne Johannesdotter/ 5 years ago

      förutbestämt... prometheus.. epimetheus...

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Steph, we actually had a beautiful weekend and it was so nice to feel the warmth.

      I appreciate your kind words; they mean a great deal to me considering my respect for you and the work you do.

      Thank you my friend!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      What a terrific hub, Bill! I'm sure I've mentioned it in comments on some of your other AA/alcoholism hubs, but I know a number of people that struggle with the affliction. Only one - unfortunately - got herself into treatment and is now finally making good progress and in a healthy relationship. You write from the heart and with resounding authority and good advice on this topic! All the best, Steph

      p.s. Hope its beautiful and sunny in Olympia this weekend! :)

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 6 years ago from Central Florida

      Laughing is a wonderful habit. I'm glad I could oblige! Veggies really are very good, why don't you try them on for size! Ha ha. I'm a poet and I really do know it!

      Lots of love.....


    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      We will indeed, Sha, and you do the same. Laughing by the way on the vegetable thing!

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 6 years ago from Central Florida

      Tell Bev I'm on her side, Bill. I'm trying to do the same for my man. Meat, potatoes, pasta and bread does not a healty man make! Ha ha.

      You and Bev have a wonderful Sunday!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Pickles, it is an extremely important role and I know you understand that. Thank you my friend and blessings to you.

    • picklesandrufus profile image

      picklesandrufus 6 years ago from Virginia Beach, Va

      Another informative hub on this topic. Thank goodness for sponsors who realize the role they play in another person's life, as it is seriously important. Thanks for sharing your insights!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, you are a dear friend and I thank you. I started laughing when you said I have an aura...I had someone else say that years ago and it puzzled me for quite some time. It seems like I'm just being me but there must be something there I'm not seeing.

      I appreciate you greatly dear lady. You might want to talk to Bev; she's on that vegetable kick too. Her new campaign is to get me eating them.

      Best wishes my dear and have a wonderful weekend.


    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 6 years ago from Central Florida

      Billy, I commend you for reaching out to those who need and really want help. It is very selfless of you. But, then that is precisely one of the qualities that has brought you close to my heart. I'll bet you have a physical glow/aura about you that draws people to want clarity. In the same turn, it could also result in those wannabe's steering clear of you! Which I'm sure, in your interview process, becomes clear to you because you can see their face(s) while they cannot!

      I could go on and on, but those of us who have grown to love you, as I'm sure your face-to-face friends have, know what a special man you are.

      Now if we could just get you to eat your vegetables! ha ha.

      Take care, my Friend!


    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Jeyaramd; I take sponsorship quite seriously. It's too important a job to do part time without knowing what you are doing. I appreciate your words and I promise to keep spreading the word and trying to help others.

    • jeyaramd profile image

      jeyaramd 6 years ago from Mississauga, Ontario

      Thanks for sharing this eye opener for alcoholics. There are many steps to the program of which includes acceptance that you need help. There is always a way when there is a will for change. AA is a great program rooted in compassion towards others. Of course, a sponsor is limited, as you mentioned, in that they are not supposed to take over your financial or personal burden. Their role in itself is monumental in combatting a deadly condition. There are so many disease that are the result of alcoholism including liver cirrhosis. Thanks for shraing this awesome hub. You really are rocking HP. Keep up the awesome hubs.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ruby, God bless you as well and thank you my friend! It's all about passing it forward or the program simply will not work.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 6 years ago from Southern Illinois

      This is a wonderful hub. A.A. is a life saver. Alcohol has destroyed many homes. Thank you for a faithful commitment to help others who suffer..God Bless you...

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Oh Jama, it is a minefield to be sure. It does work out on occasion but all too often the intermix of sexes is a disaster waiting to happen. The fragile psyches and emotions of early sobriety are a breeding ground to false hopes and unstable support that often leads to sex and failure.

      Your insights are spot on and I thank you (as always) for your support and wisdom.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      One thing you might mention, Bill, is one recovering spouse should NEVER be the sponsor for his/her recovering wife/husband.

      I only mention this because my son's aunt and uncle decided to get sober at the same time (and were successful, btw), but she took the AA admonition to avoid romantic relationships in the first year of recovery seriously. Even more so when Hubby wrongly assumed, since they were living under the same roof during that time, she'd be his live-in sponsor and got quite a rude awakening when she (rightly) refused!

      I hate to admit I was one of the family members and friends in a betting pool as to whether the marriage would survive that year (amazingly, it did), or that it was somewhat comical on several levels to watch them navigate the mine field of "married couples" issues while navigating the program as singles. Each went on to become sponsors, btw.

      Another great AA hub, Bill! Voted (as usual) up and awesome! ;D

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Susan! It is a deadly issue that needs to be taken seriously, not only by the sponsoree but also by the AA, by the way, they call them sponsees, which is not a real word but oh well. First time I heard someone say it I wanted to correct them but luckily shut my mouth.

      Thank you my friend; you have always been here for me and you are greatly appreciated.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Earthy, your words fill my heart with happiness. I simply was not willing to give up on myself; far too much work still left undone.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Robie, congratulations on thirty years; that is remarkable and I applaud you for finding the true path to happiness. As always I greatly appreciate your following along on my own path.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Teaches, I love your spelling of sponsoree, which is correct of course. Everyone in AA says sponsee and I grit my teeth whenever I hear it said that way. Oh well...your words are true and I appreciate you as always.

    • sholland10 profile image

      Susan Holland 6 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Bill, this is very informative. Coming from a family history of alcoholism and witnessing it, I have seen the role of the sponsor and the sponsoree. It has scared me to death knowing that one of my loved ones may not be reached and could die. Although, they had been at death's door, they survived with good sponsors.

      You are so right about not being their bank or landlord. They cannot be enabled and they must go through the tough process of figuring out how to stand on their own without the alcohol.

      Great hub! Votes and Shares.

    • Earthy Mother profile image

      Earthy Mother 6 years ago from South East England

      You are very kind man Billybuc - I admire your courage and determination and it's brilliant you are there to help others. Keep up the good work! xx

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Hi Billybuc-- your write so honestly and so from the heart. I love to read your AA hubs especially, because although it has been more than 30 years since my last drink, I too am in recovery and I too want the hand of AA to always be there.

      Sponsorship is always a two way street I think-- I am eternally grateful to my early sponsors. I wouldn't have made it without them, and later on I often learned more from my sponsees who were struggling to get sober than any counselor or therapist could have taught me. Thanks for sharing and kudos on this one. It is terrific.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      The role of a sponsoree is admirable. Your facts on finding someone who with a good track record, having the same sex, and not being a banker or landlord make sense to me. I can see where someone not serious about following the program must be dismissed, because if you really want to get free of alcoholism, or any addiction, then you must follow the rules and not abuse the sponsoree.

      This is such a great program. Thanks for sharing the details of this sponsoree position that are not easily understood. Voted up.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Xavier; I have seen too many people treat this as a game or a casual friendship and I need people to know this is deadly serious. And yes, it does indeed apply to every walk of life. Blessings and peace to you and yours this weekend.


    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 6 years ago from Isle of Man

      Another brilliant addition to your book on alcoholism and recovery. I like your description of a sponsor and the standards you set for one. Bottom line is unless you walk the talk you you are not doing yourself or anyone else any favours. This is a philosophy based on personal integrity and applies to all areas of our lives, in my opinion. Thank you Bill for this fabulous latest installment.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You are welcome, Emily, and thank you for your great comment. Alcohol is such a sneaky entity...socially acceptable and yet oh so dangerous. Your words are true and quite frankly with each passing day I am more impressed by your wisdom at such a young age.

    • emilybee profile image

      emilybee 6 years ago

      What a great hub on this topic. You always mention that alcoholism is just a cover up for something bigger. I think it's so difficult because so many teens start drinking to fit in and be cool- and then can't stop, and by that point their lives are deteriorating and they then relay on alcohol. It's too bad because at the beginning their lives were really not bad. Thanks for all the info on an AA sponsor.


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