By the time you read this, I will be back in the 1990s. So to speak anyway.

A period of annual leave beckons and I am jetting off to the unlikely winter wonderland of Butlins Bognor Regis to sample their 'Nineties Reloaded' weekend with an old university friend who, like me, went from the age of six to 16 over that decade.

But before I headed off to a nostalgia-fuelled land of Take That tribute bands, Peter Andre sets, and Pat Sharpe in the DJ booth, another apparent hangover from 1990s caught my eye: a report showing that women in Britain are "the world's biggest binge drinkers".

Coincidentally it dropped into my newsfeed at roughly the same time as my friend messaged me to bemoan the absence of any Bacardi Breezers in her local supermarket (she had hoped to pop a few into our Butlins mini-bar for old time's sake, but it turns out they were discontinued in 2015 - much like our youth).

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Binge drinking, women, and the 1990s could be summed up in a single word: "ladette".

It was an era when hard-drinking female celebrities like Zoe ball, Denise Van Outen, and Sara Cox made getting plastered on alcohol seem cool, glamorous, funny, and even a form of feminist empowerment to a generation of young women.

Thirty years on, the "ladette" label has faded but it seems that the legacy of binge drinking has not.

So how does the UK compare, and just how generational are our drinking habits?

According to the 2023 edition of the OECD's 'Health at a Glance' report, women in the UK (jointly with their counterparts in Denmark) have the highest rates of "episodic heavy drinking" of the 33 wealthy nations measured.

The Herald: The average Brit was drinking two bottles of wine a week by 'Peak Booze' in the mid-NoughtiesThe average Brit was drinking two bottles of wine a week by 'Peak Booze' in the mid-Noughties (Image: Getty)

In both countries, 26% of women over-18 said they had consumed at least 7.5 units of alcohol in a single drinking session at least once in the prior 30 days.

A "binge" in this context would be equivalent to just over three medium-sized (175ml) glasses of wine, an amount that seems moderate compared to an average Friday night out in Britain.

In Spain, just 4% of women reported binge drinking at any point in the previous month, while in the US and Ireland it was around one in five.

In fairness to the women, male binge drinking rates in the UK remain much higher (at 45%) - it's just that they trail behind Romania, Denmark, and Luxembourg, meaning they are less likely to make the headlines.

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What is less clear from the OECD report is how drinking patterns vary across the generations, and how alcohol consumption has changed over time.

Between 1950 and 2005 - when average UK alcohol consumption peaked - the annual intake per person in Britain climbed from 3.9 litres of pure alcohol to 9.5 litres.

Of course no one actually drinks pure alcohol, so this is perhaps better described as going from around two and a half pints of beer per week per person to more like two bottles of wine a week each.

The change began slowly at first. In 1970, most alcohol in Britain was still consumed as beer and drunk in pubs by an almost exclusively male clientele.

The Herald: Historically, pubs were almost exclusively male spacesHistorically, pubs were almost exclusively male spaces (Image: Getty)

A shake up to retail licensing laws in 1962 enabled supermarkets to sell alcohol for the first time, however, and between 1967 and 1972 their share of the off-trade market for beer, wines and spirits went from 5% to 25%.

As more women took up drinking - particularly from the 1970s onwards, as their financial and social circumstances were liberated - overall population consumption started to gather pace, coinciding with a global boom in the wine trade which drove down prices during the 1980s and 1990s.

Alcohol consumption by women almost doubled in the three decades leading up to 'Peak Booze' in the Noughties. Since then it has fallen for both sexes, but much more steeply among men.

According to the most recent edition of the Scottish Health Survey (SHS), men in Scotland have gone from drinking nearly 22 units a week on average in 2003 to less than 15 units by 2021 (a 32% reduction) while female drinkers have cut their intake by 25%, from 10.6 to eight units over the same period.

The Herald: Average alcohol consumption, units per week, Scotland: men (blue), women (black)Average alcohol consumption, units per week, Scotland: men (blue), women (black) (Image: SHS)

It must be said that the SHS clearly underestimates actual alcohol consumption given that alcohol sales figures indicate that Scots adults are drinking 18 units per head each week - a figure that would be even higher once the non-drinkers were excluded.

However, these self-reported surveys give us a gauge of drinking habit variations between the sexes and age groups that purchasing data cannot.

It indicates that "hazardous or harmful" levels of alcohol consumption (in other words, exceeding the guideline threshold of 14 units per week) is most common now among women aged 45 to 64.

In stark contrast to the 1990s, just 9% of women aged 16 to 34 were drinking too much compared to around a quarter of those in middle age.

As the charity, Alcohol Change, puts it: "It may be that a generation who drank heavily in the 1990s and 2000s is bringing those habits into middle age, with potentially serious consequences for their long-term health."

The Herald: Self-reported harmful/hazardous drinking by age groupSelf-reported harmful/hazardous drinking by age group (Image: SHS)

Figures published earlier this year by the National Records of Scotland also revealed that older Scots - those aged 65 to 74 - now have the highest mortality rates for alcohol-specific deaths. 

Everyone knows that drinking too much alcohol is bad for your health - from increased cancer risks to liver damage - but binge drinking brings its own dangers. 

Beyond the obvious ones - accidents, falls, injuries, and the vulnerability that comes from impaired judgement - repeated binge-style intoxications have been associated with inflammation in the lymphatic system (potentially weakening immunity to infections) and increased insulin resistance which could lead to diabetes. 

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Differences in male and female alcohol metabolism rates also mean that women could be more vulnerable to greater tissue injury from repeated binges. 

Like tobacco once was, alcohol remains an integral part of everyday life in Britain and - as one academic put it - a "route to getting legless" rather than the enjoyable social lubricant that it is in the likes of France and Spain. 

Some relics of the Nineties belong there; perhaps binge drinking is one of them?