Should you be friends with your 12 step sponsor?

Friend or mentor? Or both? Can and should you be friends with a 12 step sponsor? We discuss here.

minute read

What’s the role of a sponsor?

A sponsor is someone who has completed the 12 steps and who can help you do the same. However, different 12 step recovery program define sponsorship and the role of a sponsor in different ways.

AA sponsors: In Alcoholics Anonymous, a sponsor’s primary purpose is to help you stay sober. In this regard, sponsors are encouraged to do “everything possible, within limits of personal experience and knowledge” to help new members stay sober.  AA pamphlet on sponsorship

NA sponsors: Sponsors are “willing to build a special,supportive, one-on-one relationship” with people looking for recovery from drug addiction.  NA sponsorship info

GA sponsors: In GA, sponsorship is more loosely defined. GA groups consider sponsorship to be “older, more experienced member(s)” helping one another. A sponsor’s responsibilities are unwritten and informal but are based on the notion of one gambler helping another, either in a group setting or one-on-one. Gamblers Anonymous does not make its booklet on sponsorship publicly available, so some groups have published their own thoughts about 12 step sponsorship on separate websites.

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What 12 step sponsorship means

Sponsorship means many things to different people. A sponsor can be a:

* coach
* confidante
* guide
* leader
* mentor
* parental figure
* teacher

In fact, 12 step sponsors and sponsee relationships are each as unique as the people who create them. However, all sponsorship relationships share the same inherent quality. At the heart of a sponsor – sponsee relationship is trust. You should be able to confide your darkest moments to a sponsor without fear of judgment or shame. And the kind of soul-bearing that comes with sharing a moral inventory (4th step) or a list of people we have harmed in our lives (8th step) predisposes us to feel extremely close to our sponsors. But should this closeness move into friendship

Friendship and sponsorship

A sponsor does not necessarily have to be your friend. In fact, Whether or not you bond with your sponsor seems to be based more on personal compatibility than anything else. And sometimes friendship can get in the way of the primary work of completing the 12 steps. So when is friendship with your sponsor appropriate and helpful?

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Friendship is usually a spontaneous kinship that arises from some combination of situation and affinity. Sponsorship is almost a more direct relationship. You work with a sponsor to get something accomplished: to understand life in life’s terms, to move through the 12 steps. As long as your sponsor (friend or not) helps you to progress on the path of recovery, the relationship is helpful and not hurtful.

What do you think? When is developing a friendship with a sponsor counter productive to working the 12 steps? Can friendship with a sponsor enhance recovery? Your experiences are welcome.

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About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. I tend to want to be friends with just about anyone who is friendly toward me. Certainly a friendly compatibility seems necessary as a quality I’d look for in a sponsor, but not so close as to get in the way of “telling it like it is,” or verbally “kicking the sponsee’s ass” (metaphorically) when necessary. I just texted my sponsor to ask if he wanted to be friends on Facebook. We’ll see how THAT goes.

    1. Hi Richard,
      Change is never easy. But remember that is the right thing to do and it’s for your best. Don’t lose hope and stay strong.

  2. I have found that being buddy buddy with a sponsee is counter-intuitive and clouds the whole reason for sponsorship. I also find that the sponsee takes me for granted more and has a sense of entitlement much like a boos with an employee or teacher and student whose relationships have gotten to close.

  3. I think it’s OK if the friendship is made from your sponsorship relationship. To be friends already and then ask the friend to sponsor you isn’t the best idea. I did this because I figured I could tell them everything which is what we need to do when working the steps. My sponsor felt too close to me to be able to give me loving confrontation. She couldn’t call me on my crap because of fear of hurting my feelings and ruining our friendship. I now chose a new sponsor who told me when they call me on my stuff it’s in a loving way. I needed that to grow. I can’t grow if I don’t learn what I need to change.

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