BRITAIN is in the midst of an underage drinking epidemic, say medical experts and politicians. New figures show that 8,000 under-18s are being admitted to A&E every year for drink-related problems. But why do teenage girls, some as young as 14, feel the need to get so wasted? The Sun sent award-winning journalist Tanya Gold to two UK cities - Manchester and Brighton - on a typical weekend night to see the problems for herself. This is what she found...
It's Manchester on a Saturday night and groups of underage binge drinkers are wandering the streets. They are gripping bottles of booze as they hang out in the city centre or head to a nightclub. Some are skulking, some laughing, but they all have the same aim - to get out-of-their-heads drunk.
I meet Jessie, a 14-year-old girl who has a shot of Baileys before bed every night. She also necks a litre of vodka each Friday. She says: "I down it and then I puke everywhere. I don't know why I do it. To rebel against my parents, I think. They hate me. I drink to annoy them. I drink in my bedroom alone. I get very depressed and I do stupid things. I smash and punch things". Jessie shows me bruises on her knuckles - they are left behind from when she punched a wall. She adds: "I drink to make myself feel better and to ignore my problems. But I don't have to do it. I can stop".
As I speak to more teenagers, I begin to see a pattern - most only drink at weekends and it's because, they keep telling me, "it's fun". They are drinking to get drunk and so vodka is their tipple of choice. "It is cheap and it gets you fucked quicker," says one. The girls open their bags and empty their pockets to show me bottles of cheap vodka. Mention alcopops and they just laugh - they don't drink them as they don't contain enough alcohol.
Troubled teens drink more often. One tells me about his friend who is gay and is afraid he won't be accepted by his friends. "He is smashed every day", he says. "He is smashed in school".
These drunk kids take huge risks with their safety. One girl I met recently jumped into the canal and another boy ran into a wall. Another girl tells me a moving story about her 15-year-old friend. She says: "I know someone whose boyfriend said, 'Go and stand on a railway line and kill yourself'. And she did. "She rang me and said, 'I'm on a railway line and I want to kill myself. There's no point living'. I rang her dad and luckily he went and got her". Another teen drinker knows someone who had five fits in one bingeing session.
The teenagers say they feel free, uninhibited and brave. Mary, 14, says: "It is like you are in a dream. You feel like a different person, as if you aren't you anymore". These youngsters save their pocket money, or have Saturday jobs and then pool it all together to buy the cheapest alcohol on sale. They also get cash from their parents by saying it's for the cinema or a McDonald's. To get their hands on the booze, the underage drinkers have fake IDs, older friends or they hang around outside off-licences asking people to buy it. They say one in five people will buy booze for them.
Sometimes parents even buy their children alcohol because they know they will drink it anyway and want to have some measure of control. One girl has a bottle of vodka, bought by her uncle. She waves it at me and shouts: "Top uncle!"
Sometimes it is hard to talk to the teenagers about why they drink because they simply don't know. They just shriek "happy", "party" or "fun" in your face. I keep asking them why they drink if it makes them sick. But it is a side-effect they can tolerate. One 14-year-old says: "It's great. It makes you feel dead happy. It makes you forget the cunt stuff. Say you had an argument with your mum. Off you go and get drunk and you come home and you are all happy and you and your mum are friends again".
The teenagers use the word "confidence" a lot when talking about why they drink. It makes them tell the truth, which they don't feel they can do if they are sober. "It makes you feel pretty," I am told again and again by girls. But you are pretty, I say back. "I'm not, I'm ugly" is always the response. One 15-year-old opens her hold-all to show me her stash of vodka. She and two mates are going to down the lot. The girl says: "Normally I will look in the mirror and think 'Ugh'. I don't think that when I am drunk".
Later I speak to Rosemary and Primrose, two 19-year-old twins. Rosemary says binge drinking makes her feel "free".
She says: "I drink until I pass out. It's fun to talk about it the next day. If you don't remember anything it's the best night ever. You can do crazy things. It's like, 'I fell yesterday! Oh my God!' When you are drunk you feel on top of the world - like Superwoman. You can do whatever you want to do. You don't care. You just feel free".
The following weekend I headed to Brighton. It is a party town, full of teenagers and bars with "Student Discount - All Day, Every Day" signs. Pubs and off-licences are willing pushers to the teenagers. I find a group of under-age binge boozers who regularly hit the city's drinking haunts. One says: "Do you know how easy it is to get served? I was 17 last Thursday and I just walked in and got served". Another girl, 15, says: "You can get fake IDs off the internet. There are hundreds of websites. You can use a friend's ID and they don't even check the picture. Sometimes you just say, 'I showed you my ID last time. Don't you remember me?'" Another lad, who is 15, adds: "I have even used my Railcard to get served and that is not even ID".
Next I meet Sylvia. She is 17 and says she knows her limits - three-quarters of a litre bottle of vodka in one night. You are a binge drinker, I say, and you are risking your health. "Yes, I am!" she happily shrieks back. I probe her about why she drinks and if she is worried about her health, her liver, her personal safety, her sanity. It is like talking to a child. She is not worried and she doesn't know why she binge drinks.
As far as I can see, teenagers in Britain are playing Russian roulette with their lives every weekend. And at least some of these teenage drinkers will become chronic alcoholics.
On the way back to the railway station I see a boy vomiting against a wall. He sees me staring. "What the fuck are you looking at?" he sneers. "A problem", I say and leave, nauseous from the truth.