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A Timeline of Alcoholism Recovery for Christians

In this article, we cover the beginnings of treating alcoholism, which involved several Christian-based recovery programs. 

Alcoholism is widely considered to be the original addiction. It was by studying alcoholism that we obtained a more enlightened understanding of the many other forms of addiction, even those we didn’t know were actual addictions like gambling and sex addiction. In being the first well-known and widely studied form of chemical dependency, there’s a much richer history of alcoholic treatment.

While street drugs like heroin and prescription drugs like OxyContin are relatively new in a historic sense, people have been producing and enjoying alcohol for thousands of years. In fact, there were even times when it was advised that people drink only alcohol as the water and other options were considered unsanitary and unsafe.

There have been many people to inadvertently become physically and even psychologically dependent on alcohol over the course of human history, which led to the formation of several treatment and recovery options. With religion being an especially important part of society in previous centuries and decades, most of the early alcoholism recovery programs had a religious or, more specifically, Christian emphasis.

Certain principles or ideals behind these early Christian-based recovery programs still resonate today, suggesting that these programs do have some intrinsic value despite the minimal knowledge of alcoholism that existed at the time of their creation. The following is a brief timeline of Christian-based recovery programs for alcoholism.

The Emmanuel Movement, est. 1906

One of the earliest Christian-based recovery programs for those who suffered from alcohol dependency, the Emmanuel movement began in 1906 and was so-named because it originated in the Emmanuel Church in Boston, Massachusetts. The field of psychology had recently begun to blossom.

Traditionally, psychologists and neurologists were concerned only with the most severe disorders like schizophrenia and psychosis, but Boston was the home of several very important figures—William James, Boris Sidis, Josiah Royce, and Hugo Münsterberg to name a few—who were instrumental in the progression of psychotherapeutic techniques for alleviating symptoms of milder mental and emotional distress.

The Emmanuel movement was a unique intersection of what would appear to be two conflicting modalities: the psychotherapy of psychology and religious healing. However, despite being run by Episcopal priests, the movement had a much stronger basis in psychology than religion and is credited with originating the emphasis on individual counseling and group therapy as the primary vehicles for alcoholism recovery.

In fact, the Emmanuel movement’s legacy is the emphasis placed on utilizing forms of psychotherapy and counseling to help individuals overcome alcoholism and addiction.

The Oxford Group, est. 1921

One of the most well-known early Christian-based recovery programs for people with drinking problems, the Oxford Group was founded by an American Christian missionary named Frank Buchman shortly after he had what he refers to as a conversion experience in Keswick, England.

Rather than being a program meant overtly for the purpose of overcoming alcoholism, the Oxford Group—known first as A First-Century Christian Fellowship before Buchman changed the name in 1931—was based on the belief that individuals’ problems are the result of fear and selfishness. Groups would congregate to pray, offer each other guidance, confess sins to one another, and so on, which served the purpose of restoring one another to emotional and spiritual purity.

By the 1930s, the Oxford Group had become very popular, operating almost like a theocracy. Specifically, the Oxford Group taught its members that only so-called Four Absolutes—absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute selflessness, and absolute love—could restore individuals to health and absolution from a state of alcoholism and sin.

In 1938, Buchman changed the group’s name to Moral Re-Armament, which remained the name until 2001 when the group became known as Initiatives of Change. It remains in operation today.

Alcoholics Anonymous, est. 1935

Although there are a number of twelve-step groups available today, the original twelve-step group is Alcoholics Anonymous. The founder of the group, Bill Wilson, had struggled with alcoholism and tried many of the recovery programs that existed at the time, including the Oxford Group.

However, he disliked the notion that substance abuse was a sin and alcoholics were sinners. Taking bits and pieces from other groups and combining them with some of his own ideas, Wilson created Alcoholics Anonymous and his renowned Twelve Steps in Akron, Ohio, in 1935. Somewhere between the Emmanuel movement and Oxford Group, Wilson’s Alcoholics Anonymous acknowledged that alcoholism was a disease, but emphasized that it caused and resulted from a state of spiritual wanting.

The Twelve Steps were designed to help individuals achieve recovery through a spiritual awakening. This is achieved by working each of the Twelve Steps in sequential order, a cumulative process that entails admitting one’s addiction, taking an inventory of character defects, making amends to those one has wrongs, and ending with becoming a mentor, or “sponsor,” to a newcomer of the group, ensuring the legacy of sponsorship and the twelve-step method. Today, Alcoholics Anonymous membership numbers in the tens of millions and the Twelve Steps have been adapted for use with many other types of addiction.

Celebrate Recovery, est. 1990

Created more recently than the others on this list, Celebrate Recovery was intended to be a Christ-based alternative to the more spiritual Twelve Steps. The group was founded in 1991 by the pastors of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, after one of the pastors was alleged to have received a vision from God telling him to begin this recovery support group, resulting in the pastor outlining God’s message in a 13-page letter that has since become famous in the fellowship.

In terms of its methodology, Celebrate Recovery offers a Christian version of the Twelve Steps that include Bible passages and biblical analogues to Wilson’s original twelve-step method. However, rather than being solely for alcoholism, Celebrate Recovery is meant to help with all forms of addiction, including those that are behavioral in nature (e.g. gambling, sex.)

Initially, the group’s membership was small, limited only to members of the church and local community. However, today there are more than 20,000 active Celebrate Recovery groups all over the world.

Interested in Christian-based Recovery Programs? Call Us Now

Although the disease is incurable, alcoholism and drug addiction are highly treatable afflictions. There are a variety of resources, from support groups to psychotherapeutic treatments, available to those in need. If you or someone you love would benefit from learning more about the recovery process, let Drug Treatment Center Finder help. Call now at (855) 619-8070 to speak with our recovery specialists and intake coordinators. With a free consultation and assessment, you or your loved one can be on the way to a life of health, happiness, and fulfillment.