What's the difference between AA and Celebrate Recovery?

Oct 05 2017

What’s the difference between AA and Celebrate Recovery?

For those in the recovery community who are trying to figure out which treatment program is the best fit, they have their work cut out for them. The choices are endless, but two popular “free” options are the 12 step group, Alcoholics Anonymous and the Christian-based group, Celebrate Recovery. To make an informed choice, it’s important to note how they differ from one another.

Alcoholics Anonymous, founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, is a spiritually-based program, which is built on the premise that recovering alcoholics can help each other to stay sober. It’s spiritual principles are based on the Oxford Group, an evangelical movement from the 20s and 30s. AA kept the principles, like honesty, unselfishness and love, but used the terms God and higher power to indicate a person’s right to choose their own faith. They felt that this would appeal to, and ultimately, help, more people get sober.

The primary literature AA is built around is the Book: “Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered from Alcoholism.” The literature expands on how to put the 12 steps into practice and the book is often referenced by the speakers in the groups. AA is by and large a very welcoming organization. They don’t ‘force’ someone to admit they have a drug and/or alcohol problem to attend the meetings, they supply their own funds by a freewill offering and they tote a non-threatening phrase, “Take what you like, and leave the rest.”

AA promotes sponsorship, one individual “mentoring” another alcoholic and helping that person through the 12 steps. However, getting a sponsor is purely optional. AA is also well-known for its “disease” concept of addiction. AA believes that the only way to deal with this “allergy” to alcohol is through total and compete abstinence, although relapse does not mean you can’t go back to the group. Millions of individuals have been helped through AA’s program and it is also an excellent choice for aftercare of a more traditional treatment program. In fact, many treatment centers who are based on the 12 steps, encourage people leaving treatment to go to “90 meetings in 90 days.”

Celebrate Recovery is a Christian-based organization that was founded by Pastors John Baker and Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in 1990. Similar to AA, it is a spiritual program, but it is more singular in faith, following the teachings of the Bible and singling out Jesus Christ as the only God. Celebrate Recovery, (known as CR), is also similar to AA in that it has a program based on steps. There are eight principles of Celebrate Recovery, inspired by the beatitudes of Jesus, which are supposed to help people with their “hurts, habits, and hang-ups.” It also gives biblical references to AA’s traditional 12 steps and these are integrated into the program as well.

Also like AA, CR uses the Serenity Prayer, although it uses the complete prayer, written by Reinhold Niebuhr:

God, grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is; not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.

Unlike AA and other 12 step groups, like Narcotics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous, which are very specific in their focus, in CR people with many different kinds of hang-ups are all attended to within the one group. For example, there may be people attending who have an addiction to porn, or an eating disorder, anxiety or some other mental illness, or even someone who has sexual abuse in their past.

Celebrate Recovery has produced its own Bible-based curriculum, promotes abstinence, and once someone has gone through the program, they can get trained in how to be a sponsor or lead a group. CR is now in over 29,000 churches and has, like AA, been very successful in helping people recover from addiction and other “hang-ups” as well.

Both AA and Celebrate Recovery also encourage works of service on the part of their members, though Celebrate Recovery encourages service to the church family as well as to recovering members of the group.


  • Julius Caesar

    Both orginizations are utter garbage. What the fuck is wrong with this website?

    • Freddie Fennell

      Won’t help if you don’t have a desire to stop

  • My Personal Angel Sharon Halas

    My life has been transformed as a result of going through a 12 Step Program. The first group I attended I felt like this wasn’t for me, but I resolved to be open minded and learn what I could. I am so thankful that I did. Not only has my life been remarkably transformed, others around me are changing as a result of my courage. Be courageous. Commit.

  • Sean Dattoli

    Both organizations have helped millions of people, not get sober but live transformed lives

  • Warren Asa Hart

    The primary difference is that AA follows the Twelve Traditions of AA while CR does not adopt the traditions as part of their program. This makes a huge difference in the programs. Read them before deciding which group to belong to.

  • steve

    Does Celbrate recovery believe in the life long commitment to stay sober that AA pushes