Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations


Pathways between Relational Spiritual Processes, AA Sponsorship Alliance, and Sponsee Recovery Goals

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Annette Mahoney (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Joshua Grubbs (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Dara Musher-Eizenman (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Conor McLaughlin (Committee Member)


This study contributes to research on Alcoholics Anonymous, a mutual help organization that is concerned with helping individuals who identify as alcoholics to maintain sobriety through a spiritually-based 12-step program. Specifically, 134 AA members, termed in this dissertation as “sponsees,” reported on relational spiritual processes between them and their current sponsor, including sanctification, spiritual intimacy, spiritual mediation, and spiritual one-upmanship. Sponsorship alliance was assessed as a dependent variable and mediator. Criterion variables included abstinence self-efficacy, craving for/obsessions with alcohol (termed “subjective experiences”), individual spiritual well-being, and emotion regulation skills. Hypotheses were partially supported. Greater sanctification, spiritual intimacy, and spiritual mediation were linked to stronger sponsorship alliance. Greater sanctification and spiritual mediation were uniquely tied to higher levels of spiritual well-being, and greater spiritual one-upmanship to lower abstinence self-efficacy after controlling for relevant demographic variables. Sponsees who endorsed a stronger sponsorship alliance also reported higher abstinence self-efficacy and spiritual well-being based on bivariate correlations and regression analyses. Additionally, the sponsorship alliance partially mediated the relationship between spiritual mediation and spiritual well-being. Bootstrapping was used for atemporal mediation analyses. The findings from the present study suggest that the three positive relational spiritual processes provide unique windows into how spirituality exists in and is tied to strength of the sponsorship bond. Spiritual one-upmanship may also be a risk factor for building abstinence self-efficacy. Sponsorship alliance could play a mediating role in a sponsee’s spiritual well-being goals. Implications of this study will be discussed.