12-Step Sponsorship and Treatment Options

A recent article in Counselor Magazine reports that outcomes for drug and alcohol addiction treatment are more effective when coupled with 12-step participation, particularly when the added incentive of working with a sponsor in a 12-step program. Years of research have been conducted on the efficacy and worldwide phenomenon of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) since its inception in 1939. However, according to the article written by Dr. Taleff, there is little or no research performed on the advantages that may be seen in client outcomes when coupled with sponsorship in AA.

Role of the Sponsor

For those who are unfamiliar with this specific role, a sponsor is someone who has maintained continual abstinence and attended meetings of AA for a period of time that is deemed appropriate for them to have a strong enough recovery to work with others who are new to the process. This can range from one year to any number of years. Obviously, those who have multiple years will have benefited from their time in recovery and have additional success stories over those with fewer years. This person will act as a mentor to newer members, for the purpose of helping them to work through the 12 step process.

Dr. Taleff's articles goes on to explain past research done in conjunction with this issue. He recommends to those who work in treatment to have their clients obtain sponsorship within the 12-step community in order to enhance their opportunities for successful outcomes in their treatment experience. While there are drawbacks to making this referral to your clients, it is hoped that they will benefit from the additional support post-treatment when they have begun to develop a structure designed to assist them in maintaining long-term abstinence.

He also suggests a simple research project that may help professional counselors and other treatment professionals to devise their own outcomes with sponsors and without. That is to work with all clients for a few months to determine whose success ratio is greater; those who work with a 12-step sponsor, or those who go it alone, either in a 12-step program or outside of that support group. Over time, other research clearly indicates the advantages of the 12-step support. However, many newly recovering addicts are going to be reluctant to embrace that realm.

Sponsorship in a 12-step program will certainly increase the likelihood that those who are newly recovering will continue to develop a support group. As they learn to socialize within that group, it will become more and more important for them to bond with that group by participation in all aspects of the program. This is often the incentive for maintaining abstinence, which enhances program participation, which enhances step work with a sponsor, ad infinitum. Each will feed the next, and the result is that the recovering person becomes involved in a process that allows them to comfortably integrate recovery into all aspects of their lives, replacing many of their previous behaviors with new healthy alliances and relationships. This is all perfectly designed to optimize their chances for continued success.

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions' counselor.


Taleff, M. J., The Benefits of AA Sponsorship: New Research Findings, Counselor, the Magazine for Addiction Professionals, August, 2012, Vol. 13, No. 4.

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