From weddings to funerals, casual meetings to formal dinners, alcohol is used to brighten almost any social occasion. But there is a darker side. It can also destroy lives.
BBC One's Britain's Streets of Booze looks at the long-term alcoholics struggling with their addiction, the teenage bingers at risk of stumbling down the same path, and the innocent victims - children affected by alcohol in the womb.
MONDAY 3 OCTOBER
Super Strength Hell
It is cheap, it is readily available and it is wrecking lives. Super-strength lager, containing around 8% alcohol is, for many of Britain's alcoholics, the drink that starts and finishes every day.
Jackie, aged 40, is in super-strength hell. She has lost three children to care and begins her day with a can of super-strength. It keeps the shakes away and keeps her blood alcohol level topped up.
Maz too lost her children, three daughters, as a result of her addiction. She used to sleep rough and met her current partner Elvis at a refuge for the homeless. They have come off the streets but not off the booze. Between them they drink anything up to 20 cans of super strength a day.
Joel, aged 38, is a former eco-warrior, the last man evicted at the Newbury bypass battle. He ran away from an alcoholic home at 14 and "ran straight into alcohol".
Joel revisits the park bench that was once his home
For 20 years his life consisted of sleeping and drinking. Now that he is dry he looks back at the life he led and his way out of super-strength hell.
Producer: Jane MacSorley
TUESDAY 4 OCTOBER
In just one night, Jessica can drink more than the safe recommended consumption for a woman for two weeks. And she is not alone. Around 30% of young women binge drink along with 40% of young men.
"I'm a binge drinker in the sense that I only live once. I'm young so why not have fun."
Jessica is proud of being able to keep up with the boys
"Over the last five or 10 years, I think we've seen a sea change in people's consumption of alcohol", says Professor Cary Cooper, an expert in Britain's alcohol culture.
"Binge drinking is going on about three days, usually a Thursday, Friday, Saturday night and going for about seven hours."
There are new social factors at work, he says. Young people are cash rich, but not enough to buy homes - because of the massive house price inflation - so they simply say "Why not enjoy life?"
The result is that, across the nation on weekend nights, many high streets are turned into alcoholic theme parks that for many people are a vulgar and intimidating battleground to avoid at all costs.
Producer: Chris Alcock
WEDNESDAY 5 OCTOBER
One in a hundred people are estimated to be damaged by alcohol - and through no fault of their own. These are the innocent victims, some medical experts now believe, whose mothers drank during pregnancy, unaware of the potentially devastating consequences.
These experts believe the condition, known as Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), can be caused by drinking as little as a couple of drinks while pregnant.
Tracy Hayter is convinced that her 20-year-old son Chris has an FASD. She is trying desperately to get him diagnosed. She and Chris hope that a diagnosis will allow him to get the help and support he desperately needs.
People with FAS have very specific facial characteristics
Some people with an FASD also have very specific facial characteristics: narrow eyes, a flattened philtrum (the area below the nose) and a thin top lip. These people are said to have Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), which affects around one in a thousand births.
The UK guidelines for drinking in pregnancy state that pregnant women should not drink more than one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week.
Other countries, including America and Canada, now advise pregnant women to avoid alcohol altogether.
Psychiatrist Dr Raja Mukherjee, who is working to improve diagnosis and awareness of FASD, believes: "The only guaranteed safe message is to say that if you can avoid it, don't drink."
Producer: Kathryn Park
THURSDAY 6 OCTOBER
Tanked Up Teenagers
British teenagers have a drink problem. They consume twice as much alcohol as they did 15 years ago. Half of 15 to 16-year-olds told a recent survey they had been drunk in the last month and a similar number said they had first been drunk at the age of 13 or younger.
Dan Bent is turning 18. He first started drinking at 13 and used to drink 300 units of alcohol a week. But he got into a fight and is now trying to wean himself off drink.
He has been having black-outs and there is a possibility that he has done long-term damage to his health. He is waiting for the results of a brain scan and he recently appeared in court charged with common assault following a drunken brawl. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a 12-month community rehabilitation order.
Aged just 18, Dan was referred for counselling for his drink problem
As many as 1,000 people a week aged 15 to 25 suffer serious facial injuries due to drunken assaults.
The sale of alcohol to anyone under 18 is illegal but it is obvious that children far younger are getting hold of booze - and large quantities of it - with great ease.
"Youngsters are prepared to go to any lengths to get into a licensed premises and obtain alcohol", says police officer Pete Sinclair, who gives courses on how to spot fake IDs.
"There has been a definite increase in the use of these cards and the amount of youngsters consuming alcohol on a regular basis. We are talking about serious amounts of alcohol - well over the recognised limits for adults."
Producer: Nicky Bolster
FRIDAY 7 OCTOBER
On the Wagon
Alcoholic liver disease can take decades of hard drinking to develop. It used to be a disease of old age but not any more. As recently as 1992 the average age of diagnosis was 69. But that has now fallen dramatically to just 49.
It is only when the liver is actually failing that many people realise they have been drinking too much. And by then the only possible treatment can be a liver transplant, an extremely serious and complex surgery.
With seven out of 10 people treated for alcohol dependence likely to relapse within the first year, patients are carefully screened so the hospital is as sure as possible they merit treatment.
44-year-old Matt was drinking for 25 years
The Royal Free Hospital in London requires patients to be dry for a minimum of six months to be considered for transplant. And they must also sign a contract with the hospital promising never to drink again.
"I drank because I enjoyed it, " says Matt, a recovering alcholic. "It wasn't a problem as far as I was concerned. I know now that it was, but I didn't see that then."
By the time he accepted he had a problem, it was almost too late. While awaiting treatment he was still drinking and ended up in hospital with liver failure.
Producer: Jeremy Monblat
Britain's Streets of Booze was broadcast from Monday 3 to Friday 7 October 2005 at 0915 BST on BBC One.
Production Managers: Nick Todd, Alexandra Harris
Assistant Producers: Catherine Bennett, Bill Law, Susan Prichard
Series Producer: Subniv Babuta
Executive Producer: Paul Woolwich