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Thursday, 11 May, 2000, 17:56 GMT 18:56 UK
Malice through the drinking glass
By BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley
British women are drinking more, according to new figures from Alcohol Concern.
With 23% of women aged 16 to 24 regularly exceeding the recommended daily intake, the toll on their health may not be the only cost.
Those who ignore the numerous warnings and put their long-term health in jeopardy may also be blind to the more immediate effects of alcohol misuse.
Diana Lamplugh, who set up the Suzy Lamplugh Trust following the abduction of her estate agent daughter, says excessive drinking puts women at risk of attack.
"Anybody who has enough to drink so as not be as aware as they might - and this varies from person to person - will be put off guard and may end up in trouble."
Mrs Lamplugh says as alcohol begins to impair judgement and chip away at inhibitions, women can fall prey to an assailant, particularly one armed with a so-called "date rape" drug.
"It's a very nasty and dangerous problem. It's not just Rohypnol. There are now five different drugs. I'd never accept a drink from anyone."
Mrs Lamplugh says groups of female friends should always plan their nights out, nominating one to remain sober and act as a lookout.
"If you feel even the slightest bit odd and have to go outside, go with someone you know, the sober person you've nominated.
"Plan your way home, don't just put yourself in a car which says it's a minicab because you're a little too drunk to care."
Moderation is the nub of Ms Lamplugh's advice: "For goodness sake, don't try to keep up with the boys - men can generally drink far more than women."
But this is exactly what women are being encouraged to do, says Andrew McNeil, co-director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies.
"It has long been acceptable for men to drink heavily. It is now acceptable for women to do the same."
Alcohol Concern's figures suggest this has led to an explosion in the number of young women drinking to excess.
Drinking to success
While the number of women drinking heavily rose by 10-15% between 1988 and 1998, the figure has rocketed up 50% in the past two years.
"There's never just one reason for things like this, but the changing position of women in society is a major factor," says Mr McNeil.
Thanks to greater access to jobs, women now enjoy an increased level of economic and social independence.
Mr McNeil says many of these new opportunities have come in sectors with an established drinking culture.
"Nearly twice as many women as men work in pubs. Women also figure heavily in industries such as the media, environments where they may want to be seen 'keeping up with the boys.'"
He says this relatively under exploited market has not be lost on drinks companies and advertisers.
"Drinking was something men did in pubs where women were excluded. Now pubs are welcoming for women. There are some which attempt to cater specially to women."
Although the perception is that starting a family curbs misuse of alcohol, independent consultant Toni Brisby says these latest figures may point to growing drink problems among mothers.
While the effects of alcoholic fathers on a family are well documented, the issues raised by alcohol misuse in mothers are equally alarming.
A mother's addiction can undermine all stability in a child's life.
"Alcohol is always damaging in the relationship between a mother and child. The mother is often the primary carer and responsible for the vital routines and structures of family life," says Ms Brisby.
"Meals are not on the table, birthdays are missed, Christmas is not celebrated. Stability almost always goes when a mother misuses alcohol."
In "Under the Influence", a study for Alcohol Concern, Ms Brisby found drunken mothers put young children at particular risk.
"Their basic safety needs are not addressed. They are exposed to physical dangers in the home and on the roads."
In Russia, where alcohol use per capita is twice the level deemed harmful by the World Health Organisation, babies stand a one in four chance of suffering a fatal "external trauma".
Ms Brisby says that only in extreme cases do the alcohol problems of mothers come to the attention of people able to offer help.
"Children tend to be very loyal and hide the problem, taking on an unacceptable burden of responsibility from quite a young age."
While some alcoholic mothers neglect their children, others take a pride in keeping their offspring fed and scrubbed.
However, these children must still endure all the unfair stresses and strains of growing up with a problem parent, not least the spectre of violence.
"While it tends to be men who are more inclined to violence than women, alcohol nevertheless can prompt violence in mothers."
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