March 10, 2006 — -- Nicky Taylor had grown accustomed to the life of a single mom, working by day and staying in at night with her three small children.
But in a recent experiment for her employers at the BBC documentary unit, Taylor, 39, joined a group of women in their 20s and matched them drink for drink to demonstrate the effects of binge drinking. The result is the new documentary, "Booze Bird."
"We have a problem in Britain with binge drinking," Taylor said. "I wanted to find out first and foremost if we are a nation of binge drinkers."
Britain has the highest level of liver cirrhosis in all of Europe. Cirrhosis of the liver is a degenerative disease marked by excess formation of connective tissue and painful swelling.
Both British and American women between legal drinking age and 24 drank 33 percent more alcoholic drinks by volume in 2004 than they did five years earlier, according to Datamonitor, a global strategic market analysis company.
British doctors say binge drinkers exceed the recommended allowance of two to three glasses of wine a day or 14 glasses a week.
During her experiment, Taylor consumed up to the alcoholic equivalent of 30 glasses of wine in a single night. In just 30 days, she consumed the equivalent of more than 500 glasses of wine, and spent five days every week getting falling-down drunk.
Taylor made many startling discoveries during her experiment on how many women binge drink, the social acceptance of binge drinking, and the ways companies market toward young people by making candy-flavored drinks.
Drinking took its toll on Taylor. In one month, she gained almost 10 pounds, her body fat level increasing from 37.4 percent to 38.9 percent. She aged noticeably, looking almost 50 instead of almost 40, and was prone to bouts of depression and diarrhea.
"I lost my jaw line and developed chipmunk cheeks," Taylor said. "I was drinking the equivalent of around 2,000 calories a night and developed a big tire of fat around my stomach."
Doctors said that if Taylor had continued to binge drink for an additional five months, she could have damaged her liver and increased her risk of cancer, infertility and skin complaints.
There were personal side effects too. Taylor could not properly care for her children and sent them to live with their father during the final two weeks of the experiment.
And work became much more difficult.
"I had to continue with my job, but I lost my mobile phone, forgot appointments, and couldn't remember when I was meeting people," Taylor said. "By week three, depression set in. The alcohol was affecting my brain chemistry. I had no motivation."
Taylor said the worst thing was the shame she felt the day after she had danced on tables and flirted with bystanders one night.
"By the end … I didn't want to see a glass of wine," Taylor said. "Of course I still drink. I am not going to stop. But I will not drink every night now. I have cut down considerably. I look at my glass of wine and think, 'You are a drug.'"