Do You Have to Have a Sponsor in a Drug Recovery Program?

Do You Have to Have a Sponsor in a Drug Recovery Program?

Before anything else, what is a sponsor to a drug recovery program? A sponsor is someone who helps you stay sober or drug-free. They’re usually past addicts who have overcome their addiction and are sharing their experiences towards sobriety, usually in a group setting like Alcoholics Anonymous meet-ups or group counseling within a rehabilitation center.

They’re the sociological and emotional support that an addict might need on top of the medical services they receive from doctors and mental evaluations they receive from professional psychologists and psychiatrists.

They’re like the good friend who’ll help you through your drug and alcohol addiction dilemma, even though they’re otherwise strangers to you.

What to Expect from Worthwhile Sponsors

A sponsor should serve as your experienced guide, mentor, and good friend on your path towards recovering from addiction and becoming sober once more. They’re usually there to help patients work through a rehab program, whether it’s a 12-steps one or a holistic set of inpatient services that they’ve chosen to participate in.

To be more specific, they should showcase the following traits.

  • Respectfulness: A good sponsor should be respectful to the person he’s sponsoring. Respect goes a long, long way towards helping someone rebuild their self-confidence and self-esteem in case their self-worth has been damaged by nastiness of drug addiction. A sponsor will never force his or her views on the patient or “sponsee”.
  • The Sponsor and Sponsee Relationship: The primary responsibility of the sponsor of a given rehabilitation center or 12-step program is to aid sponsees suffering from drug and alcohol addiction by sharing their experiences and what worked when it comes to kicking their bad habits and rewiring their addicted brains to become more open to a sober lifestyle.
  • Relatability: It’s no coincidence that sponsors are usually people who themselves have suffered from addiction in the past. This increases their relatability to patients and helps them foster closer bonds with people who are otherwise strangers because they’ve been through the same ordeals. Sponsors are there to show how a recovery program helped them and how it can help you in turn.
  • A Fellow Patient in the Past:Some programs allow former sponsees to end up as sponsors for present sponsees as part of their recovery. It’s a voluntary type of work that benefits the sponsors by making them feel like they’ve turned a new leaf. These sponsors are usually patients who’ve been in recovery for quite sometime. They serve as shining examples that prove a certain rehab center or addiction treatment facility actually works.
  • Shows How Recovery through Rehab Works: On top of knowing what it’s like to be an addict, the sponsors should also be experienced in how to recover from addiction. Sponsors were introduced by programs like Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) and Narcotic Anonymous (NA) through their multi-step programs. These sponsors are usually part of their group therapy and counseling sessions.

Are Sponsors Necessary?

While sponsorships are considered de facto requirements for the likes of AA in order to stay sober and make group counseling more effective by featuring past rehab graduates, there are some people out there who question their necessity.

Are sponsors necessary for recovery? Should you absolutely need a sponsor in rehab the same way you need to quit drugs first before entering rehab? Or is it more like detoxification services and the like wherein some might need it but some might not?

After all, there are many programs that don’t feature sponsors but instead counselors and doctors. Sponsors are not required in every program. In some rehab centers or programs, they are simply part of the whole package towards recovery. Consider the following:

  • The De Facto Requirement in Certain 12-Step Programs: If you’re entering the Alcoholics Anonymous rehabilitation program, sponsorships are as much of a given there as their world-famous 12-step program itself. It’s not like you can opt out from sponsors there if it’s part of the program. Otherwise, avail of another rehab program without sponsors involved.
  • Completely Optional: But for other more holistic programs that involve optional services like mindfulness meditation, complementary and alternative medicine, and dual diagnosis, you can pick and choose whether you want to include sponsors in your menu or not. The benefits of sponsors are myriad but there are programs available that don’t feature them but are equally just as successful as 12-step programs and the like.
  • One of the Few Tried-and-True Recovery Recommendations:In the end, there are only a few things about drug and alcohol addiction recovery that are black and white. There are several tried-and-true recommendations that have proven themselves successful when used in the context of addiction treatment. One of these is having a positive, active, and honest relationship with a sponsor.
  • Different Types of Addicts Can Benefit from Sponsors:Some addicts tend to make rash decisions motivated by their selfishness, showcasing their defiance and stubbornness. Other addicts are slaves to their hedonistic desires. Still other addicts are able to balance drug or alcohol use with a successful life, so they rationalize that their excessive usage is harmless until they face the consequences of their actions. They can all benefit from sponsor insight.
  • An Outsider’s Perspective with an Insider’s Insight:Regardless of the type of addict, a sponsor provides an outside perspective and important insight that will help these people in taking their blinders off and seeing the path towards sobriety clearly for the first time in a long while. They’re the outside source that sponsees can depend on to bounce ideas off and make informed decisions.
  • A Guide Who’s Been There Before:A sponsor is someone that a patient can lean on and get crucial support. Their wisdom is the key for sponsees to know what to do, what to expect, what to avoid, and what works when it comes to actively working towards sobriety. Sure, they’re not trained psychologists or therapists. But they’ve been there and done that. They were themselves addicts once upon a time just like their sponsees.
  • Sponsees Becoming Sponsors Themselves:On that note, sponsorships are quire rewarding and beneficial experiences for both the sponsor and the sponsee. Some sponsees might even look forward to becoming a sponsor themselves in the future in order to “give back” to the rehab center that assisted them.

A Warning In Regards to the Sponsorship Experience

Sponsorships or the sponsor-sponsee relationship in terms of drug and alcohol addiction recovery are extremely beneficial because the two are sharing addiction experiences together, allowing the sponsee to tread a safer path with a helping hand rather than deal with the experience alone.

  • A Scary Experience:However, the experience of being a sponsee and establishing a student-mentor or counselor-counseled bond with the sponsor can be a scary one during the early stages of addiction treatment. In other words this is a relationship that needs you to be honest with your sponsor the same way you’d be honest with your psychologist or psychiatrist.
  • The Need for Complete Honesty:You also need to divulge the ugly truth about yourself that led you to drink your problems away or turn to drugs to fill in the holes in your life. It’s uncomfortable to be truly honest with another human being who’s a stranger to you even if you do have shared experiences in regards to the subject of addiction. If you’re dishonest with your sponsor, you’ll end up nowhere; like a car spinning its wheels on mud.
  • Vulnerability is a Necessity: Being vulnerable and accepting vulnerability is part of the process of recovery. It’s also easier said than done. You need to bare your soul in order to create a solid foundation in your path towards sobriety. This totally new experience is something that will inevitably happen in order to make the sponsor-sponsee relationship work. Honesty is required in any relationship, whether it’s friendly, romantic, platonic, or familial.
  • Vulnerability is a Necessity: Being vulnerable and accepting vulnerability is part of the process of recovery. It’s also easier said than done. You need to bare your soul in order to create a solid foundation in your path towards sobriety. This totally new experience is something that will inevitably happen in order to make the sponsor-sponsee relationship work. Honesty is required in any relationship, whether it’s friendly, romantic, platonic, or familial.
  • Sponsors and Dealing with High-Functioning Addicts:Even if you’re a high-functioning addict who can handle taking drugs and/or alcohol while still maintaining a work-life balance of sorts, you still need to share your experiences honestly with your sponsor. You didn’t end up in AA, NA, or a drug rehab facility by accident, after all. You recognize that addiction can and will ruin your life one way or another.
  • Why High-Functioning Addicts Have a Hard Time Opening Up: After all, high-functioning addicts usually have the hardest time quitting their vices because they don’t face immediate dire consequences from their actions, thus they end up taking more drugs and alcohol with the impetus that they can handle it better than other addicts until the other shoe drops and they finally hit the proverbial wall. Perhaps they require the assistance of a sponsor with a similar experience.
  • Why High-Functioning Addicts Have a Hard Time Opening Up: After all, high-functioning addicts usually have the hardest time quitting their vices because they don’t face immediate dire consequences from their actions, thus they end up taking more drugs and alcohol with the impetus that they can handle it better than other addicts until the other shoe drops and they finally hit the proverbial wall. Perhaps they require the assistance of a sponsor with a similar experience.

The Sponsor-Sponsee Relationship Is a Rewarding One

Early on as you go through detoxification, mindful meditation, group therapy, individual therapy, counseling, and so forth, you’ll get into conversations in the rehab center about sponsorships and their effectiveness. You’re usually told to find your own sponsor then work with them ASAP.

It’s a daunting task for those who’ve just started the first few weeks of drug addiction treatment. This can be a daunting task for you because you barely have a concept of what a sponsor is or should be. Even after reading the first few sections of this article isn’t enough to scratch the surface of what a sponsorship entails.

With that in mind, what exactly is the role of sponsorship in your recovery from addiction?

What is the Role of a Sponsor?

The main responsibility or role of a sponsor from a 12-step program is to help the sponsee through said program. He or she is there to provide encouragement, understanding, guidance, and explanation on how the 12-step AA or NA treatment works. This sponsor can offer various other important functions throughout the process of recovery.

The sponsor specifically fulfills the following functions or roles.

  • A sponsor should serve as a role model, teacher, and friend.
  • A sponsor should be someone safe and trustworthy to the sponsee.
  • A sponsor should be available during emergencies and times of crisis.
  • A sponsor should do what he or she says instead of just says what to do.
  • A sponsor is there to assist the sponsee in understanding the drug and alcohol rehab program in a quick fashion.
  • A sponsor is supposed to provide sponsees the practice they need to build and maintain healthy relationships in their own lives.
  • A sponsor should introduce sponsees to other fellow ex-addicts and members of, for example, the Alcoholics Anonymous program.
  • A sponsor should be the living proof and example of the success of the program he or she is promoting.
  • A sponsor should show the sponsee how to achieve recovery and how to function after recovering from addiction.
  • A sponsor should hold the sponsee accountable by offering advice and suggestions to overcome their vices.
  • A sponsor should be someone who serves as an information resource regarding addiction recovery.
  • A sponsor should show “what’s next” to the sponsee after their treatment is over and what they have to expect when living a life without alcohol or drugs.
  • A sponsor should offer encouragement and motivation to the sponsee in order to work through the 12-step program or whatever else rehab they’re involved with.
  • A sponsor can offer insight by their past experiences in dealing and beating addiction with the program they’re involved with, usually the 12-step ones.
  • A sponsor should be there to provide support and listen to the sponsee whenever he or she is needed.
  • A sponsor should be able to explain terminology and basic concepts associated with the program that helped him or her recover from drug or alcohol addiction.

What is NOT the Role of a Sponsor

As you can see, a sponsor fulfills many roles, responsibilities, functions, and purposes. However, sponsees shouldn’t confuse them for something they’re not. You should know the difference between a sponsor and a doctor or a sponsor and a counselor or psychologist, for example.

You should know the difference between a professional worker and a sponsor in order to build an honest and unambiguous relationship with your sponsor. If you’re interested in learning more about this distinction, then feel free to ask your rehab center of choice for more details about the subject.

As a rule of thumb though, these are the roles that a sponsor isn’t supposed to fulfill:

  • A sponsor isn’t the sponsee’s doctor, nurse, or caretaker.
  • A sponsor isn’t the sponsee’s psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist.
  • A sponsor should never take advantage of or manipulate a sponsee for his or her own gain.
  • A sponsor cannot keep a sponsee in recovery from addiction, that’s something a professional worker should handle.
  • A sponsor shouldn’t control the life of the sponsee or establish an unhealthy codependent or dependent relationship.

Disambiguation Between Sponsors and Non-Sponsors

Regardless, what a sponsor doesn’t do is as important as what he or she does do. Keep in mind the abovementioned reminders in order to avoid the common misconceptions associated with getting a sponsorship.

  • Sponsors Cannot Double as Doctors and Psychologists:If you wish for inpatient detoxification and anti-relapse medication prescriptions, go to your rehab center’s in-house doctors and nurses. If you want counseling and guidance beyond the confines of group therapy, consult the in-house psychologists or psychiatrists.
  • Get Psychological or Behavioral Advice from a Professional:Just because you need to be as honest with your sponsor as you are with your therapist, that doesn’t mean that your sponsor is your therapist alternative. They have no training in giving you therapeutic, psychological, or psychiatric advice.
  • Sponsors Don’t Have All the Answers:Just remember that the sponsor doesn’t necessarily has all the answers even though you can always depend on their past experience and knowledge wherever applicable to what you yourself are going through. They won’t pretend to be experts or right all the time. What they’re there for is to lend you a helping hand.

In Summary

You’ll mostly see sponsors in 12-step programs because that’s where they originated from. However, just as the spiritual-based 12-steps program eventually evolved into secular versions of the same thing, so too has the concept of sponsors changed to make them available in other drug and alcohol rehab programs as well.

Consistently, across different substance abuse and addiction treatment programs or services, the sponsor is supposed to be there in order to lend a helping hand to the sponsee by sharing his or her life experiences in regards to using the services of a given rehab program properly.

Sponsorship remains a rewarding relationship between two people who are otherwise strangers because they have to develop a bond of trust and honesty towards one another in order for the sponsee’s addiction recovery to work.

Long story short, it’s not mandated for you to get a sponsor but you might as well avail of the service if available in light of its tremendous benefits. Use it if you need it and discard it if you feel like you don’t need it.

If you’re looking for a luxurious but inexpensive drug rehab in a beautiful location, visit LANNA Rehab in Thailand.

Contact us today to learn about our individualized addiction treatment programs.

Martin Peters has a BA (Hons) Dip HE Dip RN CSAT III and is the Group Program Director Lanna Healthcare. He is a Registered Nurse and Certified Substance Abuse Therapist working in the mental health field since 1994; Martin has had a wide range of experience in management and supervisory roles within established healthcare systems, and has provided consultancy services to a number of private and public sector organizations in the UK and Asia in terms of management, policy writing, accreditation and recruitment. Martin’s addictions experience has been in developing inpatient services in Thailand since 2009, both clinical and operational. He has been instrumental in expanding and developing a non 12 step inpatient treatment centre and opening a further inpatient centre with a 12 step approach, implementing KIPU Electronic Records, strengthening hospital partnerships, introducing a Scholarship for students under the Masters in Addiction Studies Program at The ASEAN Institute for Health Development and working with an international accreditation body. Martin has also been a speaker at several international conferences on addiction, including ASEAN conferences and has also guest lectured at Mahidol University (Thailand), University of Sarghoda (Pakistan) Institute of Medical Sciences (Pakistan) and has been a representative on the CARF Standards Advisory Committee for 2016.In 2015. Martin became a Co-Founder of Lanna Healthcare, launching Lanna Rehab in March 2016 and opening Jintra in January 2018. In June of 2018, Martin was involved in the merger of Lanna and DARA, becoming Thailand's biggest private licensed operator. Martin is currently a Joint and Asia Health Co Ltd Owner Operator of Lanna Healthcare Co Ltd, which under its umbrella manages Lanna Rehab in Chiang Mai, Jintra Rehab in Chiang Mai and DARA Rehab in Koh Chang - all Thailand MoPH Licensed Addiction Facilities providing world-class treatment in Thailand.



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