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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 December 2005, 11:50 GMT
'Through a glass very darkly'
By Nicky Taylor

Nicky Taylor
Nicky embraced the challenge at first
"Binge drinking" is big news.

The media is full of images and stories of Britain's increasing culture of heavy boozing - particularly among young women.

Tony Blair has labelled it as "a new British disease".

The police are saying it's a nightmare.

The judiciary are saying it's out of control.

And some doubt the new licensing laws

will do anything to help.

Sipping two large glasses of Chardonnay officially makes me a binge drinker - but in that case, surely the majority of the British population are too?

Detached observer

In July, I decided to immerse myself in alcohol for a month and become a 20-something-year-old binge-drinking woman.

It may have been an unconventional journalistic approach, but as a "participant observer" I decided to take on the life and culture of the people I was studying to gain a true insider's perspective.

By the third week, I felt I was running on half battery
Nicky Taylor

At the same time I planned to observe them with the eye of a detached, objective scientist.

But even I had to admit this might be a challenge after six double vodkas.

I started my time in Birmingham. I met up with 30-year-old Ceri, a health club manager and 21-year-old Laura, a nurse.

The girls were good fun and we put back twice what the government recommends for a whole week in just one night.

Ceri climbed a lamp post, Laura was sick in a bag and I danced with a well-oiled pole-dancing man. And so the month began!

Medical warning

I was keen to monitor exactly how my body would be affected. I had Nuala Briggs, a skin care specialist, and Dr Christina Merryfield a dietician on board.

Nicky Taylor
But sustained heavy drinking rapidly lost its appeal

I also approached Professor Robin Touquet, an A&E consultant at St Mary's Hospital London, at the beginning of my experiment.

He refused to monitor me at first and said I was unethical and foolish to even consider such a project.

But he eventually agreed to meet up and explained how life as a binge-drinking woman would affect my health: women have an increased risk of colon cancer, breast cancer, and infertility to name but a few.

My booze-fuelled nights out were Thursday to Sunday each week.

It was good fun at first but I paid the price during the day when I had to get myself to work.

The television crew acted as my memory as mine was shot to pieces.

"Did I really do that?" I often thought to myself.

Bad behaviour

I was horrified by my behaviour, inhibitions gone, mouth as dirty as a sewer, smoking (even though I'd given up for six months) and constantly abandoning my handbag leaving the runner to go and find it.

I also became quite moody.

By the third week, I felt I was running on half-battery.

On a night out with the Birmingham girls we found a fantastic offer to drink all we wanted for a bargain 7 entrance fee. We drank solidly for four hours.

I began to think: who's to blame?

The drinks industry does have a watchdog, but it was set up and paid for by the same industry it's expected to "watch".

It is estimated that 17 million work days lost a year to binge drinking each year, and the bill to the NHS is thought to be 1.7bn.

Are they not reasons enough for the government to do something?

No food

In my final week, I had one of my biggest binge-dates. But with the mantra "eatin's cheatin" drummed into me by the girls, I was not allowed to eat.

Nuts and two packets of crisps were permissible, but not great for my rapidly expanding waistline - and not much point as they come up to greet me later in the evening.

I became tired and depressed. I wanted it to end and I was so pleased that I had only two more drinking days to go.

As I finally said goodbye to Ceri and Laura on a heaving dance floor at 2am, I wondered if I would see them again.

Ceri is still defiant that there is no problem in drinking upwards of six pints a night.

After four weeks though, it became a habit that I began to tire of.

I sensed Laura was bored of it too. I wondered if this emancipated era between the ages of 20 and 30 is all it is cracked up to be.

Finally, it was over. I had drunk 516 units over a month. I had developed central obesity which meant I was back in my maternity clothes.

I had lost my jawline - and a really nice jacket.

I had increased my chances of liver disease, cancer and alcohol addiction. But I had got off lightly, considering.

And if you're left thinking that my five-night-a-week binge was extreme, remember, it's only what 8.2 million people do in Britain every week.

Nicky's experiences will be featured in Mischief: Binge Drinker on BBC3 on 12 January.

One in four are binge drinkers
27 Oct 05 |  Health


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