What is an AA sponsor?

Image of three people walking across a ravine with a hand holding up a Big Book so they can safely walk across

July 21, 2021

By Andy F

Categories: Sponsorship

Questions and Answers on Sponsorship

AA is a pure democracy. There are no hard and fast rules about what an AA sponsor is. There are only guidelines. These guidelines are offered in the AA conference-approved pamphlet. It is called “Questions and Answers on Sponsorship.”

This pamphlet covers all the important questions and concerns about the purpose of sponsorship in AA.

A free PDF copy can be obtained from the AA website. Click the link below

Questions and Answers on Sponsorship

Sponsorship: The cornerstone of the suggested program

As a newcomer, I wished I had familiarized myself with this AA pamphlet. Reading it may have saved me from walking into negative experiences with sponsors. Every newcomer who arrives in AA is desperate to stop drinking and feel better. This fear-driven desperation may often lead to an unfortunate choice of sponsor.

After many years of drinking, I had some very unhelpful character traits. They seriously impeded my ability to make wise choices. These were all symptoms of my untreated alcoholism. I had no sense of discernment when making important decisions.

Undoubtedly, coming to AA was the best decision I ever made. I didn’t realize that getting and working with a sponsor was so crucial to my sobriety. I relapsed for many years in AA because I didn’t follow the suggested program of action.

When sponsoring myself failed, I had no choice but to change my attitude. In hindsight, I can tell you in all honesty. Coming to AA and getting an experienced sponsor when I was ready was the best thing I ever did.

Alcoholic character traits in early recovery

.When I was newly sober, I was impulsive, reckless, and impatient. I was also chaotic and irresponsible. I had little discernment, so my judgment was impaired when asking for help. Years of reckless drinking left me irrational, impulsive, and impatient. I had little or no ability to make an informed choice about anything.

On the one hand, I was a defiant rebel. On the other hand, I was lost, vulnerable, and needy. I had the unfortunate habit of asking for help from people who weren’t well enough to give it. Living clean and sober was a new and alien experience. In sobriety, I had no idea who to trust and who to avoid!

AA is a psychiatric hospital.

I loved AA from my first meeting. After putting down the alcohol, my mental and emotional state was still very fragile. What I failed to grasp was that many of my fellow alcoholics were just as unstable as me. Some of them were able to hide it well. The truth was that many of them were just as crazy as me.

I love the humorous saying I heard in AA. “Alcoholics are the elite of the mentally ill.” In early recovery, I had impaired judgment. How would I find a sponsor who was well enough for the task? Choosing a sponsor in AA is a numbers game, and I gradually had to learn what members to avoid.

Looking for an experienced step sponsor

Asking for sponsorship in AA was a life-saving decision. It is an informed choice that requires patience, prudence, and discernment. Learning more about the person you are considering for sponsorship is wise. It’s a good idea to seek the counsel of older members. They may know the person better than you. Also, they must have a sponsor and work closely with them.

It is not necessarily a good sign if the person you are thinking of asking has many other sponsees. Some sponsors set themselves up to be leaders of smaller splinter groups. This kind of sponsorship is ego-driven. It is unhealthy for the sponsor as well as the sponsee. Splinter groups in AA that one charismatic leader guides have all the hallmarks of cult consciousness.

If you are concerned about getting involved with a cult-like splinter group in AA, please check out. Please see AA Cult Watch for more information.

The maladapted alcoholic ego

The whole purpose of AA’s twelve steps is to reduce the sometimes overinflated alcoholic ego. A big ego in recovery may suggest that the disease of alcoholism has not yet responded to treatment with the twelve steps.

Over the years, I have learned to avoid people in AA with strong personalities. Some of them think they have all the answers. They believe that their brand of AA is the only way. They have convinced themselves that theirs is the most compelling interpretation of the program.

Fundamentalist groups are where this is most likely to be seen. The founders of these groups often appear confident and charismatic. They carry a powerful message until you ask one to be your sponsor. An essential rule of thumb is the awareness that in AA, all that glitters is not gold.

Here is a tip worth remembering when you are new and desperate for a solution. Any fundamentalism, both in and out of AA, is not necessarily a sign that authentic spirituality is present.
It may be helpful for radical behavior modification, but that’s all it is: behavior modification.

To sum up

As a serial relapser, I had every type of sponsor you can imagine. Each time I came back from a relapse, I would get a new one. Now, after 39 years in AA and 27 years since my last drink, I am very clear about the qualities and skills that I would be looking for in a sponsor:

  1. They have followed the steps with their sponsor and maintained contact with them.
  2. As a result of going through the steps, they no longer have an over-inflated sense of self. The maladapted ego has been replaced with humility.
  3. They remain committed to taking the sponsee through the first nine steps.
  4. A spiritually well-grounded sponsor will not try to indoctrinate sponsees with their own interpretation of God or a higher power.
  5. They allow the material in the AA literature to be challenged. Any reservations can be discussed in a spirit of mutual inquiry.
  6. Sponsors committed to rigorous honesty will challenge denial directly. This needs to be done in a spirit of compassion and understanding. There can be no room for a superior attitude or any negative judgment.
  7. They are always willing to listen and offer support in the journey towards emotional sobriety.
  8. A good sponsor will never interfere with a doctor’s decision to prescribe medication should the need arise.
  9. They lovingly challenge the sponsee’s perceptions of reality. This sometimes happens when a member’s thinking has become distorted by the alcoholic illness. It is also known as “The disease of perception.”
  10. A sponsor who embraces the spiritual solution mentioned in the Big Book will never overstep AA’s primary code of conduct in their work as sponsors:

    “Love and tolerance of others is our code.”

     (BB p.84) 

The true path to healing

“Our sorrows and wounds are healed only when we touch them with compassion.”

Gautama Buddha

“Eventually, you will come to understand that love heals everything, and love is all there is.”

Gary Zukav (author)

We all need different things at different times in our recovery journey. Some respond well to a gentler approach, while others react better to a more disciplined authoritarian approach. What kind of sponsor would be most helpful to your recovery?

In fellowship,

Andy F

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