Are there effective online AA groups and sponsors?

Q. Are there effective online AA groups and sponsors?

[The person asking the question is a public figure, concerned about negative publicity and broken anonymity.]

There are good online AA groups.  Most, if not all, have provisions for connecting newcomers with online sponsors.  Any program of recovery is only as effective as the desire of the individual to work at it.  In that respect, an online program is better than no program at all, and no doubt they do the job for some recovering alcoholics and other addicts.  Consider, however, that the purpose of a program is not only to keep from drinking.  Recovery is about unlearning how to be an addict, and learning how better to function in the world outside of AA, NA or whatever program one has chosen.

During our addictions we learn a great many undesirable habits.  We all lie, to ourselves and to others.  We are all thieves.  We may not take material things, but we steal time from our employers and families.  We steal other people’s pleasure in having a clean and sober family member, friend, or business associate.  We steal the time and resources of courts, social services, hospitals, insurance companies and law enforcement — things that are desperately needed by society to accomplish other purposes.  We steal the health of others by causing them stress, causing accidents, and taking up space in doctors’ offices, emergency rooms and other health facilities.

We also develop dysfunctional ways of dealing with other people, with stress, with personal problems, even efforts to enjoy ourselves.  Those of us who continue to function effectively in society still create our own little worlds of quiet chaos — otherwise, why would we be seeking recovery?

When we first get clean, the habits of addiction are still with us.  We have to unlearn them, and learn other ways of dealing with people, the world at large — and ourselves.  In some cases, we have to relearn skills that we’ve forgotten, or get up to date in our fields of expertise.  We have to clean up the wreckage we left behind, and reestablish ourselves in our families and society.  We have a lot to accomplish.

The Twelve Steps are a template — an agenda, if you will — for getting these things done.  They work exceptionally well, at least as well as any other programs of recovery, and better than the majority.  However, they were developed on the basis of face-to-face contact.  Some “solos” have managed to stay sober by letters and (now) email, but the great majority of successful recovery comes from the meeting halls where we interact with others who can guide us.

Sure, some of that can be done online.  This very article is one of the ways that can occur.  But online does not put us in the presence of others.  Online can’t hug.  Online can’t look at our face and tell that we’re having a crappy day, despite our protestations, and call us on it.  Online can’t give us unconditional love — because we need to see that in the face of another human being.  Online can’t tell when we’re full of b.s. — nor can we tell that about the people we interact with online. Online can’t go out for coffee and a chat, or to a picnic, or just be companionable.  We can’t call online at 3:00 AM, the midnight of the soul.  Online can't phone us to find out how we're doing if it hasn't seen us in awhile.  Nor can we do those things online for others.  In short, it’s a weak substitute for f-2-f meetings.

That’s not to say online meetings can’t be helpful, but in my opinion they should not be substituted for the real thing.  Alcoholics and other addicts need contact with people.  We avoided real interaction by keeping ourselves high and detached.  Now we need to do the reverse.  There are meetings for professionals, held privately, to avoid the issues of unethical media who no longer respect our anonymity as they once did.  A call to our local Intergroup office will probably turn up at least one in our area.

“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.”  Sitting in front of a monitor, regardless of good intentions, is not being thorough.  This is not meant to take anything away from the good people on line, but merely to say that depending on them alone is likely to be a recipe for disaster.


  1. Looking for support in my recovery.

  2. Hi Jen,

    There are dozens of online support groups.Just Google online support and alcoholism or drug addiction or whatever you’re looking for.

    Please don’t try to let online support take the place of face-to-face meetings. Eighty percent of human communication is by body language and facial expression. We need that face-to-face contact with people so that we can actually appreciate the unconditional love that they give us.

    Good luck in your recovery, and keep on keeping on!


  3. I have been clean on and off for the most part of my adult life. To be honest mostly off. At this point, I am going to a few meetings a week. I have never tried meetings online, but with my schedule, I have decided to give it a shot. I am looking for a sponsor and want to fix the problems that are creating my problems. So, that’s about it for now. I am an alcoholic and addict. I guess I will see where this goes.

    Thank you much!!!!


  4. I am looking for an online sponsor I am not able to go to live meetings however I know I can’t do this on my own. Before someone goes onto tell me how I’d find a way to get high so I should find a way to recover that exactly what I’m trying to do legally I’m unable to go so this is my only option if there is someone out there that knows the steps and is willing to help me I would appreciate it more then I could ever explain..

  5. Addiction MD says:

    There is no clinical evidence that in person meetings/sponsorships are superior to online support deapite the assertions of the author of this piece. There is no study which shows that online meetings are “better than nothing” compared with in person meetings. That is an opinion, not fact. AA and other 12-step programs need to take care to not promote their non evidence based assumptions as clinical truth. Until we have evidence to the contrary, a person seeking help should be open to the option which works best for him or her.

  6. My experience has been mainly face to face in terms of sponsorship. The difference in methodologies and types of sponsors is the same as night versus day. I have had terrible sponsors face to face. From listening to speakers who had recovered, I reached out to sponsors living outside of Ireland and began long distance sponsorship. My experience since has been fantastic!
    Just to be clear, I do not communicate via e-mail or spend my time sharing in forums. I only share online to meet people to help. After that, communication happens through skype. For those who give out and dismiss this, I ask you to try it for yourself before dismissing it.
    –email info edited–

  7. Kathryn says:

    I am interested in following up online and looking for a similar experience as yours. Any suggestions about how to proceed? I’ve never used Skype but I can learn. I have had extreme poor communication with several face to face over a period of time.

  8. I’ve been sober for 6 months. Instead of pharmaceuticals, I was looking at Medical Marijuana instead. Is this ok or will it break my sobriety. Drinking is my problem. I don’t see anything wrong with plant medicine. Better than cokes, and cigarrettes?

  9. Stewart says:

    I need some support yesterday

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