The effects of a month of binge drinking

Downing 516 units of alcohol in 30 days for an experiment ruined her skin and made her look 10 years older

Steve Bloomfield
Sunday 18 December 2005 01:00

Nicky Taylor was an ordinary drinker. She never had more than two glasses of white wine a night and rarely exceeded the weekly recommended limit of 14 units.

But in a remarkable experiment, the 40-year-old mother-of-three increased her alcohol intake ten-fold. She went out with a group of twentysomething women five nights a week for a whole month to see first-hand what binge drinking can do to the body. Ms Taylor matched the women drink for drink as they downed shots, alcopops and pints in pubs and clubs around the country.

In total she drank 516 units in a month. The results were dizzying. Her body fat increased from 37.4 per cent to 38.9 per cent. She put on more than half a stone in weight, going from a size 12 to size 14.

Most disturbingly, the month-long binge has aged her skin so much that she now has the complexion of someone aged 50. "I cannot believe how bad it all got," said Ms Taylor. "By the end of it I felt disgusting."

The experiment - reminiscent of the American film-maker Morgan Spurlock eating nothing but McDonald's for 30 days for his film Super Size Me - will be shown in a BBC documentary, which will be aired on 12 January.

Ms Taylor was regularly downing twice the Government's recommended weekly limit - in a single night. She drank eight mojito cocktails, five glasses of wine, three bottles of beer, two vodka and oranges, a bottle of Smirnoff Ice and a Slippery Nipple cocktail - a total of 28 units. Women are supposed to drink no more than two or three units a day - and a maximum of 14 in a week.

"At first I found it difficult to drink so much, she said, "but the more I drank the easier it was. My tolerance levels shot up - I can really down it now. A couple of glasses of wine used to get me a bit tipsy. Now I have longer staying power."

According to a recent study by Bupa, one-quarter of adults are binge drinkers. One of Britain's leading liver specialists, Professor Ian Gilmore, last month told The Independent on Sunday that Britain's binge drinking has become so bad that cirrhosis is commonplace among women in their late twenties.

Ms Taylor's liver was no worse at the end of the 30-day experiment. Doctors told her she would have to continue bingeing for a further five months to do lasting damage. But the experiment took its toll on her health.

"My skin became extremely dry. I lost my jaw line. It became saggy and very unattractive. I developed chipmunk cheeks, which is just horrible, and put on 8lbs in weight - I was drinking the equivalent of about 2,000 calories a night.

"I was warned that if I carried on I would get central obesity - a big tyre round my stomach. It happened. I was enormous - I had to go back to really big clothes.

"Towards the end I got quite depressed. I quite enjoyed going out in the first week, but then it really got me tired. Drink drains you completely. I found I had to sleep during the day to recharge myself."

At no stage did Ms Taylor struggle to find somewhere to drink or someone who would serve her. "I could buy twice the weekly limit for less than £20," she said. "I am amazed at how cheap it is and how available. It runs completely against what the World Health Organisation says. We have to limit availability and put up the prices - that is not what the Government is doing."

Bar staff are supposed not to serve people who are drunk, but Ms Taylor was never refused a drink, no matter how under the influence she became. "I got myself hammered and made it quite obvious - shouting at bar staff, that sort of thing. I still got served. Nobody takes any notice of these laws."

The experiment has irrevocably changed the drinking habits of a woman who used to drink two glasses of white wine a night.

"When I look at a bottle of Chardonnay now, I think to myself it is a drug - as bad as a cigarette," she said. "It is almost like we are kidding ourselves that it is not really a drug. Because of that whole attitude, it does not invoke any fear. Everyone is doing it. Politicians are doing it. No one wants to say alcohol does you no good whatsoever.

"Of course I still drink - I am not going to stop. But I will not drink every night now. I have cut down considerably."

On The Town: What Nicky drank

"I normally drink two glasses of white wine in the evening to wind down. I rarely get drunk. My challenge was to match the girls drink for drink. Whatever they had, I had.

"I love good wine but they didn't really drink wine - that is what made it so disgusting. Some of the alcopops are horrible. They are so sugary and sweet. If it was 'let's binge drink on three bottles of gorgeous wine' it might have been easier.

"I was drinking the equivalent of about 2,000 calories a night. A Smirnoff Ice has more than 200 calories in it and I was often drinking about seven or eight a night. It is no surprise that I put on more than half a stone.

"On one of the first nights I drank a couple of tequilas, two vodka tonics, pint of cider, an apple Schnapps shot, a Slippery Nipple cocktail, a Malibu and pineapple, three bottles of WKD - an alcopop - and a mojito cocktail.

"The next night I had eight mojitos, five glasses of wine, three bottles of beer, two vodka and oranges, a bottle of Smirnoff Ice and another Slippery Nipple. This became a normal night."

'Mischief: Binge Drinker' is on BBC3 on Thursday, 12 January

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