Drink and the modern girl

Natalie's mother noticed how much her daughter was
drinking at Christmas. So they had 'the talk'. Which
is how Natalie found herself one of thousands ringing
a national helpline. By Tom Anderson 
Published: 15 January 2006 


When Natalie Lobel went home for Christmas, her
parents were delighted to see her. Visits were
becoming less frequent after the 26-year-old had moved
to London two and a half years ago to pursue a career
as a public relations executive. But the holiday did
not go as planned. 

Natalie had been drinking heavily at family meals and
staying out until the early hours. Her worried parents
finally decided to act. Natalie later called it "the

She said "It was a wake-up call. My mum is a nurse and
she spends a lot of her time treating people with
alcohol-related liver damage. She told me they had
both worried for a long time that I was in danger of
becoming an alcoholic."

The following morning Natalie reached for the phone
and dialled for help. She was not alone. After years
of binge drinking, Britain's female twenty- and
thirtysomethings are starting to pay the physical and
psycological price.

The availability of cheap drink, high disposable
income and greater financial independence all mean
record numbers of worried women are getting in touch
with helplines and talking to counsellors.

And Britain's growing army of drinkers is not simply
giving up alcohol temporarily to give their battered
livers a break. They are taking the pledge never to
drink again. The calls last week flooded into
Drinkwise, the government agency set up to deal with
problem drinkers.

This year has seen record numbers of drinkers picking
up the phone. The helpline, established in 1993, with
offices around the country, had an unprecedented jump
in calls over the past year with a 66 per cent rise in
enquiries over Christmas.

According to a spokesman for the group, callers were
especially concerned about drinking over Christmas,
and were eager to turn their lives around.

The growing problem was echoed by other groups around
the country. Phone lines at the Samaritans were also
ringing off the hook. A spokesman said yesterday: "We
get a big increase in calls over Christmas and of
course alcohol is part of that. It's a hard time when
people are having to face up to the prospect for the
year ahead. The new year can seem a very bleak place,
especially for alcoholics.

The Priory, the UK's leading provider of private
mental health care and alcohol rehabilitation, says
high-profile alcoholics in the media have led to a
growing acceptance among women that alcohol problems
can at last be discussed.

Karen Croft, spokeswoman for the group, said: "What we
hope is that the climate is finally changing and that
2006 is going to be the year that people feel
comfortable acknowledging that they have a mental
health problem such as alcohol and they can finally
feel confident in stating that they need that help."

Media coverage of the problems of the former Liberal
Democrat leader Charles Kennedy has made it easier for
women to talk, says Richard Kramer, director of policy
at the alcohol charity Turning Point, an educational
group dealing with addiction. He said: "The media
coverage has been sympathetic to Mr Kennedy. His
comments about seeking professional help for
alcoholism helped to remove the stigma and shame
associated with alcohol problems. It has helped draw
attention to the extent of the problem in this

Mr Kennedy is not the only high-profile alcoholic in
the news. Professor Nigel Williamson, George Best's
former physician, is in no doubt that coverage of his
client has been a major factor in a new openness
towards alcoholism: "I'm not at all surprised at the
big increase in women asking for help now. After
George Best died I had many, many letters from people
around the country with alcohol problems who felt able
to suddenly talk about it. They had somebody to write
to who was obviously concerned about the whole issue.
It wasn't just men. Many of those were women as well.
The situation, if anything, is more critical for women
with alcohol problems because their biology is

As well a having a different biological makeup, social
pressures are adding to the medical problems women
face. Karen Croft of the Priory believes pressures on
women have never been greater. She said: "Women are
bombarded with messages that they have to succeed with
every aspect of their lives. They feel they have to be
beautiful, slim, eat healthily, have great careers,
have wonderful relationships and raise perfect
children. When you have the media bombarding women
with these images it creates a climate in which women
find it very difficult to admit to themselves 'I'm not
perfect and I need help'."

Medical experts warn that more women will face
problems. A spokesman for the Royal College of
Physicians said: "Overwhelming evidence suggests that
women suffer harm from alcohol at lower levels of
consumption than men. Even allowing for differences in
body weight, a woman will attain a higher blood
alcohol concentration than a man from the same amount
of alcohol. This may be because women have lower
levels of alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), an enzyme
involved in the metabolism of alcohol."

And according to the spokesman, the medical profession
faces an uphill battle: "Alcohol advertising is now
targeted at women. Cultural attitudes favouring
drinking and heavy drinking are in glossy magazines
and on TV and receive frequent celebrity endorsement."

A European medical report warned last year that
European alcohol consumption was likely to double in
the next five years, with female Britons topping the
league. A spokesman for the Institute of Alcohol
Studies believes the problem is deeply rooted in a
changing society. He said: "Women now have many more
opportunities to drink than they did previously, and
women's drinking has become far more socially

Natalie Lobel has been off drink for three weeks now.
She thinks about it every day, and she will avoid
seeing her old friends for a while. She drinks a great
deal of fruit juice. "At first I was afraid and
daunted at the thought of life without a drink," she
said. "But I'm beginning to realise I've set myself


Natalie Lobel is a PR executive who lives in
south-west London. She stopped drinking after warnings
from her parents. She was consuming a bottle of wine a
night plus four or five double gins and beer and
whisky chasers at weekends.

"I was drinking alarmingly. It was becoming like an
obsession. I couldn't seem to function without it. I
felt I couldn't go home after a day at work and not
open a bottle of wine. I've always worked around wine
and I'm a real connoisseur but it was getting to the
stage where I was drinking every night. My friend told
me that she was going to give up boozing, and I
thought, 'I'll just never be able to do it'. Finally I
thought, 'I don't really want to be alcohol
dependent'. I want to have the same quality of life
not drinking as I have drinking. I find it difficult
to go out because I can't bear to see my friends
drinking and I have to avoid pubs. It's something I
think I'll reap the benefits from. My parents are very


Claire Shephard, 29, is a freelance media consultant
who lives alone in Fleet, Hampshire. She regularly
visits London for parties and became worried about her

"The main reason is the health side of things.
December is always such a busy month. I go to a lot of
parties and it's all about having fun and chatting,
with a glass of wine in your hand. I'd started to
notice real problems with tiredness and my skin. I
didn't have the energy to go to the gym. Of course
drink helped my confidence. I'm the kind of girl who
goes out for an evening and I'm never 100 per cent
sure about the outfit I've chosen. A couple of glasses
of wine later and it doesn't seem to matter so much.
I'm glad I've stopped. Now at parties, instead of wine
I have glasses of water. I feel like I want to go home
and have a healthy meal in the evening. I'm sleeping
much better at night. I got bored with feeling cloudy
and dehydrated. Now I'm able to get out of bed in the
morning and start the day."


Sophie Kirkham is a 32-year-old writer from Earls
Court. She vowed on New Year's Day that she would cut
back on drinking. She has resolved to enjoy life
outside pubs, bars and restaurants, which invariably
centre on alcohol.

"Drink became a steady part of my life from around the
age of 17 and has never really gone away. I was
drinking around one and a half bottles of wine each
time I went out, which was five times a week.
Recently, I had gained weight and began suffering
stomach cramps caused by excess alcohol. I decided I
couldn't continue like this for the rest of my life.
While drinking with friends was great fun, there had
to be more to life. The amount I was drinking was
making me permanently tired and forgetful; I was
forever retracing my steps. looking for my keys and
mobile phone. I feel more awake and to my surprise I
have discovered that life without booze is not boring.
Now I have more energy I am hoping I will get fit."


Lucy Gardiner, 19, lives in Milton Keynes and works in
marketing. She would often visit bars in the town
centre and drink vodka-based alcopops.

"I've noticed a change in my overall body shape in the
past few years. Drinking shows on your body. I've put
on pounds and I've gone up a dress size. I used to do
a lot of dancing but I gave that up because I didn't
feel fit enough. I want to feel better in myself. I
was going out several times a week. And I was coming
home from work and having a glass of wine. I don't
like pubs, but I go to bars a lot. I liked lime-
flavoured vodka, Malibu and doubles of spirits because
the hangover wasn't as bad as with beer. Now I've
given up, I get the odd craving every now and then but
I've just said to myself, 'This is a complete detox'.
I feel so much clearer in my head. I feel more alert
at work and don't feel tired in the evenings. I've
even joined the local David Lloyd gym. It's only been
two weeks but I feel so much better."


220 LITRES OF alcohol per year is the average amount
drunk by British women aged 18 to 25. They consume
more than five bottles of wine a week, almost four
times more than their Italian counterparts and three
time more than their French ones.

291 LITRES OF alcohol. The average amount that British
women will drink annually by 2009, according to a
European survey by Datamonitor. This is the equivalent
of three large glasses of wine a day and would mean a
doubling of alcohol consumption in a decade.

80.7 LIFE EXPECTANCY of a woman born in 2004. The
figure for men is 76. In 1990 the difference was 7.5
years. The growing culture of drinking among British
women is regarded as the main reason for the reduced

23% OF WOMEN aged between 16 and 24 drink more than 21
units of alcohol per week. The advised limit is 14
units, or two per day. This is roughly equal to 175ml
of red wine per day.

40% OF ALCOHOLIC women in Britain have tried to commit
suicide. The figure for non-alcoholic women is 8.8 per

35% OF WOMEN after reporting being raped admit to they
had been drinking before to the offence. Some 70 per
cent of those women were not even sure if intercourse
had happened. In these cases, the conviction rate is
just 5.5 per cent.

51,108 DRINK-RELATED hospital admissions in 2004 and
2005, a rise of 28 per cent since 1997.

45% OF WOMEN later regret drunken sexual encounters;
44 per cent find it difficult to socialise without a
drink, and 73 per cent have regretted making a
telephone call or sending a text while under the

250% RISE IN liver cirrhosis deaths among women in
England and Wales since the 1950s. In most other
European countries deaths have fallen by an average of
20 to 30 per cent since the 1970s.

Sion Morgan 


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