Are AA Sponsors Beneficial?
Tags: 12 Steps AA AA sponsor alcohol drinking alcohol problems Alcoholics Anonymous alcoholism
Treatment for addictions based on the Twelve Step teachings and traditional practices of Alcoholics Anonymous is the prevalent clinical model in the U.S. A primary objective of this model is to connect the recovering person to a community-based AA affiliation. Several studies have shown the beneficial relationship between AA attendance and increased abstinence. Other studies have shown the positive relationship between the social support of AA and substance use reductions. Encouragement to acquire an AA sponsor is common practice and is seen as an important means of increasing the benefits of the social support provided by AA participation. This study states the role of AA sponsor as, “to guide a junior member through the prescribed Twelve Steps: a role identified in approved AA literature”.
Much is known about the prevalence, practice and benefit of AA sponsorship. The researchers cite work showing that 75% of adults in Twelve-Step based treatment had a sponsor in the first 3 months after treatment. This is consistent with the 2007 Triennial AA Survey that reported 73% of new AA members acquire a sponsor within the first 90 days. However, this tends to decay over the course of 12 months; one study showed only one in five participants had a sponsor at 9 month follow-up.
This study investigated the “direct and specific effects of AA sponsorship on later substance use”. Participants (235) were recruited from AA and outpatient treatment. Intake and follow-up interviews included questionnaires, interviews, and drug testing. Overall reductions in alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine use were found over 12 months. Results showed that having an AA sponsor predicted increased alcohol abstinence. During early AA affiliation – but not later- the study showed that having a sponsor predicted increased alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine abstinence. Having an AA sponsor was found to be “significantly and positively predictive of later abstinence regardless of whether the abstinence did or did not consider the use of illicit drugs.” For example: participants with sponsors at 3 months were almost three times as likely to be abstinent from alcohol at 6 months as AA attendees who had no sponsor. Although the researchers point out that there is wide variation on how sponsorship is structured and experienced, the findings provide strong support for the benefits of having an AA sponsor during early AA affiliation.
(Tonigan, J, Rice, S,: Is it beneficial to have an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor? : Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 24: 397-403, 2010)