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How to Choose a Sponsor: 8 Personal Qualities that Stand Out

Strong sponsorship is a crucial element of strong sobriety. A sponsor is someone who guides you through the steps, meetings, and the fellowship. He or she has worked the program themselves and passes on the knowledge that they’ve acquired.

As someone who works with you one-on-one, a sponsor acts as a guide for your recovery and builds a relationship with you. Getting a sponsor is voluntary, and you can change your sponsor if you ever need. However, many people flounder and struggle with staying sober without a sponsor who takes them through the steps.

There are important tips for picking your sponsor. It isn’t always a popularity contest. A sponsor should have characteristics and personal experience that benefit you if you are willing to make the effort at getting sober. Let’s look at the qualities that make someone stand out as a strong candidate for a sponsor.

1) Available for you: Taking Calls, Sitting Down to Read and Do Step Work

One of the most common complaints is that a sponsor doesn’t return calls or show interest in their sponsee. They may be personable, outgoing people at meetings, but when it comes to one-on-one time, they are not available.

So it’s important that a sponsor has the time and attention for you. You shouldn’t feel that there’s something wrong with you if your sponsor doesn’t seem to care. I find that very popular sponsors take on more sponsees than they can accommodate and commit to helping more people than they have time for.

Don’t feel bad if you need to switch to someone else who has more attention for you.

This also points out that the most popular people don’t always make the best sponsors. Sometimes the more reserved but consistent members have a better track record of being there for you outside of the meetings.

2) Worked the Steps and Employs Them Currently

It should go without saying, but make sure your sponsor has completed the steps. Many people try to sponsor without having any experience with the steps. They may be the people who can stay sober with only the meetings and fellowship, or they just never got around to doing the steps despite staying sober.

It’s rare that someone can get sober with the meetings alone, and a sponsor who has accomplished that will try to impart it to you, without interacting with the Big Book or Steps. However, if you go this route, you would be missing out on the ingredients that lead to happy, long-term sobriety.

Another aspect is that the steps are meant to be worked throughout life. Does your potential sponsor employ the steps in their lives? Do they try to clean up problems they make day-to-day? Do they seem balanced in their actions as a result of using the steps strategically? The knowledge and experience to apply the steps every day is priceless.

3) A Background You Can Relate to

Sometimes, “opposites atract” when it comes to picking a sponsor. However, usually it helps for both of you to have a baseline of qualities for you to relate. It boils down to how each of you perceive the world and your role in it, and a likeminded friend provides a quick starting point.

For instance, if you both work in the same industry, you have ready icebreakers to start a conversation. Or if you grew up around the same neighborhoods, you share a hometown culture. You aren’t such complete strangers when there’s something in common.

4) Uses the Book for Doing the Steps

The Big Book is the basic text of Alcoholics Anonymous. That means it shows precisely how to recover. Therefore, it should be the basis of how a sponsor works the twelve steps with you.

This often means that you two sit down and read the book together. It could mean you work the step that applies to the section you’re reading that describes the step. A sponsor doesn’t have to get too creative when it comes to step work, since the book shows how in black and white.

If no time is spent studying the book or doing what it describes, you may not be hearing the full message of the program, but instead, just the opinions of your sponsor.

5) Has a Strong Sponsor

Your sponsor should have a sponsor. Sponsoring isn’t an easy task no matter how much sobriety time your sponsor has. It’s essential that he or she have themselves a sponsor to get guidance from. That doesn’t mean they should break your confidence, but there are times a sponsor needs a helping hand from their sponsor.

When they have a sponsor, they likely also worked the steps with that sponsor. So they have a workable method of doing the steps and the original guide that they had, which they can better translate to you.

6) Suggestions that Don’t Veer Far from the Big Book and Literature

As mentioned above, the book contains nearly all the recommendations a sponsor needs.

When a sponsor asks you to do things outside of the book’s suggestions, it’s a red flag. For instance, when they ask you to do their own housework or wash their car, those are not part of the recovery program.

If you don’t feel comfortable with what they say, ask where you can consult the book for their suggestion.

7) Walks the Walk: Lives the Program in Their Lives and Not Only in Meetings

Many people have the skill of looking good for the hour of the meeting, but real recovery takes place outside of the meeting. You can begin to sense how someone lives their lives when you call and meet with them outside of the formal gatherings.

If they don’t seem to “work the program”, they may not have a good message to share. If they constantly lie, cheat others, and lead chaotic lives, you probably don’t want to live that way yourself. You want a solution that works in rough going. That means learning to apply the princples of the program in your life, which takes someone with experience to explain.

If the sponsor does not have that kind of experience, you could be left rudderless in your day-to-day struggles as well.

8) Follows a Logical Framework for Doing the Steps

Someone who has worked the steps has a clear path of completing them. Someone who hasn’t worked the steps doesn’t have a clear path that makes sense to you.

The steps are usually completed in order and in roughly the way described in the book. You shouldn’t be encouraged to “take a break” at any step or slow down if you’re willing to get them done. Your willingness should spur your sponsor to act at the speed you need.

If the current method doesn’t make sense to you, ask. Don’t be afraid to request an outline of what you need to do for completing the steps.


At first, your choice of sponsors may be trial and error. However, the tips above outlined some qualities you can watch out for in picking a suitable fit early.

You must find someone you’re comfortable with so that you can start the program of recovery immediately and complete the twelve steps.

As you learn the program for the first time with your sponsor, you learn a new basis for living life sober. It will likely be one of the most profound learning experiences of your life. With a solid sponsor, you may even ask yourself, “Why didn’t l learn this stuff before?”

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