A pilot study of the role of AA sponsors

An AA sponsor is a close 1-on-1 collaboration between an older sober member and a relative newcomer to sobriety. Its a two way helping relationship – the sponsor affirms their own sobriety and the sponsee gains new insights.

AIMS: The aim of this study was to explore the roles of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) sponsors and to describe the characteristics of a sample of sponsors.

METHODS: Twenty-eight AA sponsors, recruited using a purposive sampling method, were administered an unstructured qualitative interview and standardized questionnaires. The measurements included: a content analysis of sponsors’ responses; Severity of Alcohol Dependence Questionnaire-Community version (SADQ-C) and Alcoholics Anonymous Affiliation Scale (AAAS).

RESULTS: Sample characteristics were as follows:

  • the median length of AA attendance was 9.5 years (range 5-28);
  • the median length of sobriety was 11 years (range 4.5-28);
  • the median number of sponsees per sponsor was 1 but there was a wide range (0-17, interquartile range 3.75); and
  • the sponsors were highly affiliated to AA (median AAAS score 8.75, range 5.5-8.75, maximum possible score 9).

Past alcohol dependence scores were surprisingly low:

  • 5 (18%) sponsors had mild,
  • 14 (50%) moderate and
  • 9 (32%) severe dependence according to the SADQ-C (median 26.5, range 11-56).

Sponsorship roles were as follows: 16 roles were identified through the initial content analysis. These were distilled into three super-ordinate roles through a thematic analysis:

  1. encouraging sponsees to work the programme of AA (doing the 12 steps and engaging in AA activity);
  2. support (regular contact, emotional support and practical support); and
  3. carrying the message of AA (sharing sponsor’s personal experience of recovery with sponsees).

CONCLUSIONS: The roles identified broadly corresponded with the AA literature delineating the duties of a sponsor. This non-random sample of sponsors was highly engaged in AA activity but only had a past history of moderate alcohol dependence.

Research; The role of AA sponsors: a pilot study. Whelan PJ, Marshall EJ, Ball DM, Humphreys K. Alcohol Alcohol. 2009 Jul-Aug;44(4):416-22. Epub 2009 Mar 18.

The Twelve-Step Facilitation Handbook: A Systematic Approach to Early Recovery from Alcoholism and Addiction by Joseph Nowinski
The Twelve Steps Of Alcoholics Anonymous: Interpreted By The Hazelden Foundation by Hazelden Foundation