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6 Qualities to Look For in a Sober Living Sponsor

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Table of Contents

The vast majority of sober livings are based, at least to some degree, on the principles of the 12-steps found in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. No sober living is officially affiliated with 12-step programs, but most of them are informed by the same philosophy. Sober living homes will often recommend or even require residents to attend regular meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. Involvement in a 12-step program while residing in a sober living house can profoundly strengthen an individual’s recovery, since both programs complement each other well.

Ultimately, both 12-step programs and sober living homes help people achieve long term sobriety using similar methods: by facilitating the development of a strong peer support system. Having strong peer support is one of the most protective factors against relapse. In sober living homes, individuals benefit from the support of their housemates and sober living staff. Many sober living homes also have mentorship programs, which help newcomers obtain more individualized support. In 12-step programs, however, people obtain support from a wider range of individuals throughout the local recovery community. Above all, however, 12-step programs emphasize working with a sponsor.

What is a Sponsor?

A sponsor is an individual who has completed the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or another similar 12-step program. Newcomers to 12-step programs complete the 12 steps by working with a sponsor. The sponsor’s job is to guide people in early recovery through the literature of the program, helping them get through each of the 12 steps one by one. These 12 steps are designed to strengthen a person’s recognition of their own addiction, take responsibility for their behavior, and achieve long term freedom from the compulsions, self-will, and obsessive behaviors that characterize drug and alcohol addiction.

In many cases, sponsors do much more than simply helping newcomers work through the 12 steps. They are also a powerful source of emotional and moral support during the challenging period of early recovery — and beyond. Sponsors have generally had similar experiences, faced similar obstacles, and moreover they’ve overcome them — so they function not only as a shoulder to lean on, but they also often have valuable life advice.

Finding a Sponsor in Sober Livings

The process of selecting a sponsor is simpler than it seems. It is simply a matter of reaching out to someone who is available for sponsorship and asking them. It is common, however, for newcomers to fret over making the “correct” decision about who their sponsor should be. Ultimately, sponsors and sponsees don’t need to be best friends — they don’t need to like the same sports teams or have the same taste in music. The only quality a sponsor needs to have is a familiarity with Alcoholics Anonymous’ program of recovery.

However, there are certainly a number of qualities that good sponsors possess. For individuals who are spending their days and nights in sober living homes, it can also be helpful to find a sponsor who is at least familiar with that way of life. Sober living house residents do not need to find a sponsor affiliated with their sober living home, but staff and graduates often recommend that they choose someone who will understand and support their sober living home journey.

Listed below are six essential qualities of what to look for in a sponsor for individuals residing in sober livings:

1. They’re sober

This should go without saying, but your sponsor should be sober. This means that they don’t drink alcohol or use drugs. If they take medications prescribed by their physician, that does not count against their sobriety. The important thing is that they are no longer abusing recreational substances. It is often a good idea to get a sponsor with more time sober than you — generally someone who has at least a year of sobriety under their belt.

2. They’ve completed the 12 steps

There are plenty of people who are physically abstinent but not practicing any principles of recovery. These individuals are sometimes known as “dry drunks,” because they are physically sober but still embroiled in the emotional turmoil characteristic of alcoholism and addiction. The 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are designed to help free people of the obsessions, cravings, and mental distress of addiction. Finding a sponsor who has finished the 12 steps and is actively implementing them is crucial. After all, the purpose of asking someone to sponsor you is to get help completing these very same steps.

3. You are not romantically interested in them

In 12-step programs, newcomers are often advised to get a sponsor of the same gender if they are heterosexual, or a sponsor of the opposite gender if they are homosexual. The reason behind this is simple: if there is a chance that you or your sponsor will become sexually or romantically interested in each other, that will likely detract from the recovery process. There is nothing wrong with developing feelings for someone. However, the role of a sponsor is a unique one. Sponsees will likely have to open up about embarrassing or painful experiences or feelings, which can be difficult if there is a romantic connection. Sponsors also must give advice and feedback, which includes telling sponsees things they don’t necessarily want to hear. Keeping the relationship simple is best.

4. They are good listeners

A sponsor’s job isn’t to give orders or control how you live your life. For newcomers to sobriety, a sponsor’s job is to help them become more integrated into the program. Sometimes sponsors will give feedback or advice, but it is best to take their advice as recommendations — not orders. As such, it is important to select a sponsor who is willing to listen compassionately. Your sponsor doesn’t need to be the wisest or most intelligent person — they just need to make you feel understood.

5. You actually like talking to them!

It’s important to stress that your sponsor doesn’t have to be your best friend. They’re not therapists either. A sponsor’s job is simple: to help you feel supported as you complete the 12 steps of recovery. However, just because their job is simple doesn’t mean it has to be joyless. You don’t need to share every interest with your sponsor or even have a similar personality, but if you dread picking up the phone to call them it’s going to be a lot harder to get the support you need. Find someone with whom you enjoy chatting! You’re likely going to spend a lot of time together!

6. They understand what it means to live in a sober living house

While working with a sponsor, you’re going to inevitably end up sharing a lot of your life with them. It is important to choose a sponsor who understands how you’re spending your time. It is okay to choose a sponsor who has never attended a sober living home, but they should be supportive of your decision to pursue recovery in that way. For individuals living in a sober living facility, it is often easiest to choose someone who has either attended that very same sober living home or a different one. Sober living home staff are often good resources for finding a sponsor. They can direct you to graduates who have long term sobriety. These former sober living home residents can not only assist you in completing the 12 steps, but they can help you navigate life in a sober living home.

Recovery is Possible at Design for Recovery

Design for Recovery, a structured sober living home for men located in West Los Angeles, helps young men rebuild their lives in sobriety. Our sober live house offers a safe, supportive, and trigger-free environment for residents to develop strong foundations for recovery. Studies on sober living homes have shown that the stable environment and peer support residents obtain can protect against relapse even years after graduation. As a structured sober living home, a unique type of sober living home that offers more extensive scheduling and support, Design for Recovery can help people at all stages of recovery — whether they are just getting sober for the first time or transitioning from a treatment program.

At Design for Recovery, we believe that recovery goes well beyond mere physical abstinence. The young men in our program take steps daily to lead new lives that are joyous, fulfilling, and free. To that end, they develop strong relationships with other sober individuals in their home and in LA’s recovery community. Not only do they work to repair the wreckage of their addicted past, but they construct new futures, which for many means going back to school or beginning new careers. Design for Recovery offers a chance for a fresh start.

Our sober living home is firmly rooted in sober principles and strongly encourages residents to involve themselves in 12-step programs. If you are ready to embed yourself in a strong sober support system and make a new life for yourself, contact Design for Recovery today.


Edited by: David Beasley

David Beasley - Design for Recovery

David Beasley is a certified RADT (Registered Alcohol/Drug Technician). David, moved to California from North Carolina after many failed attempts to get sober.

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Charley earned his Masters of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).He teaches mindfulness to both adults and children in group setting such as schools, corporate workplaces, and medical treatment facilities.

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