Women now rival men for binge-drinking
KATE Lawler – strategic victor in the Big Brother race, self-obsessed glory-hunter, or the unmistakable symbol of Britain's female fascination with binge-drinking?Features Writer Debbie Watson takes a look at the latest trend toward frantic boozing among young women.
By Debbie Watson
KATE Lawler – strategic victor in the Big Brother race, self-obsessed glory-hunter, or the unmistakable symbol of Britain's female fascination with binge-drinking?
Features Writer Debbie Watson takes a look at the latest trend toward frantic boozing among young women.
AS she staggered about the house in a state of drunken stupor, Kate Lawler unwittingly epitomised an increasing modern habit.
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Her eyes glazed and her body barely co-ordinated, she battled her way into a pair of jeans with all the finesse of a sumo-wrestling male.
Then, draped over a toilet bowl in full view of the camera's gaze, she showed the nation just how it feels to have been on one of the increasingly popular womens' drinking binges.
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At just 22 and with her fresh faced good looks, Kate may have become the latest – and first female – victor of Big Brother, but more importantly, she has highlighted a great behavioural trend among young UK women.
No longer are they happy to leave the heavy drinking 'sessions' to the lads, instead they'd rather be propping up the bar alongside their male counterparts – attempting to drink them under the table at any cost.
Hence, towns like Ipswich are very often packed with alcohol-seeking women on Fridays and Saturday nights.
Many of them pack together in small clans of like-minded friends, often having consumed copious amounts of wines or spirits even before finding their way to a town-centre bar.
And, if they're not at the bar, most young British women are more than capable of knocking back the spirits, wines – and yes, beer, in large quantities at dedicated drinking parties in their own homes.
So just how serious is this trend?
Is it an innocent implication of the so-called ladette culture or something with far more potential problems for the women of Britain today?
"It's an issue that we really are extremely concerned about and there's no getting away from the fact that young women are certainly drinking far more," commented Suffolk Drug Action Team co-ordinator, Carey Godfrey.
"The trend is such that they want to get drunk fast, and because of that they end up consuming a lot of very strong alcohol in a short period of time. We are seeing this more and more among the young women, and it is worrying because their tolerance levels are vastly reduced compared to that of a male."
Carey and his team are desperate to see more help in tackling the alcohol-related problems in Suffolk.
Over the last few months they have posted a co-ordinator and three out-reach workers to help look at the issues in the county, but that's still by no means enough.
"For years now we've been waiting for the government to implement the national strategy on alcohol, but it's still not been forthcoming," said Carey.
To make matters worse, he clearly recognises that the nature of town-centre nightlife may in fact be directly fuelling this rising trend toward binge-drinking.
"The existence of things like Happy Hours is something we're all too aware of – and its basically encouraging binge-drinking," he said.
And the consequences of such behaviour are two-fold. First, we risk our safety, and second, we risk our health.
"With females the heavy drinking is far more of a risk because their tolerance is lower and they stand the chance of being so drunk that they are unable to fully protect themselves, or to remain safe in whatever environment," Carey explained.
"We are seeing young women going out as a crowd but becoming so intoxicated that they do not stay together and end up leaving members of the group alone – and incapable of helping themselves.
"That has implications in terms of safety because physical attacks and sexual advances may then be something they are less able to defend themselves from."
But the hazards go beyond personal safety. Medically, women (and men) are putting their lives in immediate or in long-term danger by their alcohol antics today.
"At one level we know from having spoken to the police that they are increasingly having to take young women to hospital at the end of these nights out, because they end up on their own and so intoxicated they cannot think for themselves," said Carey.
"To take a more long-term view of the damage they are doing, we also know that the age group for which liver disease becomes a problem has fallen dramatically.
"It's gone from mid-40s down to early-30s, and there's no doubting the fact that that has to have at least something to do with current drinking trends."
With worrying figures like this now emerging, the trend has certainly not escaped the attention of the region's drug and alcohol support groups.
The charitable organisation, Norcas, sees plenty of people who have become excessively reliant upon alcohol.
Chief executive, Penny McVeigh, believes many women fall into the habit of drinking vast amounts with their friends – never thinking that they are doing something harmful or potentially dangerous to themselves.
"We seem to be developing a trend in all towns and cities of women (as well as men) going out at night with the object of the exercise being that they must get completely and utterly paralytic," commented Penny.
"Quite clearly, we are living in a world in which it is considered peculiar not to drink – and at the same time, often far more normal to be seen drinking to excess."
National figures show on average a woman now drinks some 12.6 units per week – 66 per cent up on her consumption in 1992.
With the limit set at just 14, this figure suggests that a great number of women are also exceeding the average weekly intake.
By comparison, men's consumption has only gone up by 25 per cent.
While Kate Lawler's very public drinking sessions mightn't have been anything out of the norm for a woman of her age, they clearly go some way to demonstrating a social trend.
And that trend, as the experts are all too quick to highlight, is one that might deliver far more severe and dangerous consequences to our female population than the morning-after hangover to which they're quickly becoming accustomed.