They say Hong Kong is heaven for the rich and hell for the poor. Shanghai is hell for those with addictive personalities. There's always something going on - free drinks here, another party there…and little forethought to the consequences. Most of us don't have parents or other family in town, and there's no laws against drinking in public. The drink is cheap, and available anywhere. This can turn into a nasty problem really fast, and without getting help, those with drinking problems might soon end up on a plane back home, in jail, or worse. It can happen to anyone, regardless of background, gender, or social class.
Luckily, there's help. If you have a problem with drinking, you can find people with similar issues, ready to share their stories and help you remain sober. All you need is the desire to stop drinking. One support group in Shanghai is Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), and they meet daily in Puxi and Pudong.
In a nutshell...
A.A. is a support group for people with alcohol problems, started in 1935 by a doctor and a businessman - both alcoholics. There are no rules in A.A. and the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. Membership is free, and there is no application form. Show up to the meeting and belong. Meetings are discussions, not classes.
Though there are religious overtones, group prayer at the end of meetings, and talk of "Him" and higher powers, it's not church and there's no official religious affiliation. While they don't have rules per se, A.A. strongly believes that alcoholism is a disease that stays with a person for life, and real alcoholics can't ever learn to just handle a few drinks like non-alcoholics.
At the meeting I attended, people sat in a circle, drank coffee, read from "The Big Book," and shared their stories. Sometimes we laughed, other times it was really serious. It's a mixed bag of young and old, male and female. People there reached out to me like family. Anonymity is priority number one - the organization never reveals its members, and members traditionally don't reveal their membership.
They offer twelve steps to get sober, starting with admitting that you're powerless over alcohol and ending with carrying out the A.A. message to other alcoholics. You can find a full explanation of the twelve steps on the A.A. website.
Open and closed meetings...
A.A. has two kinds of meetings, open and closed. Open meetings are open to the public, family members, and observers. Closed meetings are reserved for alcoholics only, because these meetings deal with specific issues that only alcoholics can relate to, such as detox symptoms. The open meeting I attended was pretty damn real and emotional.
When and where A.A. Shanghai meets...
Out of respect for members, who place anonymity over everything, we do not wish to list the address of their meeting place on our site. You can check out their website right here if you'd like to attend meetings. They meet every morning, lunch, and evening in Puxi and they also have meetings in Pudong.
A.A. might be for you if...
According to A.A., if you answer yes to four or more of these questions, you may be in deep trouble with drinking. This is straight from the A.A. pamphlet. Answer these honestly. Even if you don't think A.A. is right for you, answering yes to several of these questions is a good sign that you could use some kind of help.
- Have you ever decided to stop drinking for a week or so, but only lasted for a couple of days?
- Do you wish people would mind their own business about your drinking and stop telling you what to do?
- Have you ever switched from one kind of drink to another in the hope that this would keep you from getting drunk?
- Have you had to have a morning drink, an "eye-opener," to get going anytime in the last year?
- Do you envy people who can drink without getting into trouble?
- Have you had problems connected with drinking during the past year?
- Has your drinking caused trouble at home?
- Do you ever try to get extra drinks at a party because you do not get enough?
- Do you tell yourself you can stop drinking any time you want to, even though you keep getting drunk when you don't mean to?
- Have you missed days of work or school because of drinking?
- Do you have blackouts?
- Have you ever felt that your life would be better if you did not drink?
And it's totally free...
A.A. is for anyone who wants to stop drinking, whether they're flat broke or sitting on millions of RMB. Groups do "pass the hat" around after the meeting to collect money for coffee; 10rmb is an acceptable donation. Every A.A. chapter in the world is completely self-supporting - they don't accept any outside contributions.
But it's impossible to stop drinking in Shanghai - it's necessary for business...
A lot of people have the same issue, and you're likely to meet some ex work-drinkers at A.A. meetings who can share advice about how they dealt with this issue. At the end of the day, only assholes care what other people at the party are drinking (or not drinking).
No problem with the drink, but drugs are an issue...
Narcotics Anonymous also meets every single day in Shanghai, sometimes more than once a day. They also have hotlines you can call to get answers in several languages. More information on their website.
A bit about privacy...
"Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities." A.A. has strict safeguards for protecting privacy. One tradition in A.A. is for members to not reveal their membership through the media, so that no "stars" or "celebrities" emerge from the program. Everyone is on the same level. No one is pulling out their camera phones or videotaping meetings.
A.A. collaborations with other organizations
A.A. is not affiliated with any other organization nor does it endorse or oppose any cause. It is only about helping people deal with their drinking problems.
If you or a friend needs help - go to a meeting. You'll find nice folks with similar experiences who want to help.
[Note: A.A. is not a cure-all for every person with a drinking problem. The program may work for some and others may hate it. The bigger point of this piece is to draw attention to alcohol and substance abuse problems in Shanghai and let people know that help and support is available.]