This week a major study from the international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) revealed that teenage girls are out-drinking their male peers for the first time, and are now more likely than boys to get drunk than anywhere else in the West.
What is driving our young women to drink more than previous generations? And should we be worried? Stylist.co.uk spoke to a teenage drinker to investigate
Isadora Lynch is a smart, savvy 17-year-old (I’m her sister so I am slightly biased, but trust me - she rocks). She’s a straight-A student at sixth form college with the hopes of studying Politics at university next year. She’s an ambassador for 50/50 Parliament, and has a part-time job as a barista at a coffee chain. She works hard. She also plays hard.
Isadora gets drunk almost every weekend, despite being under-age. Getting dressed up, downing copious amounts of cheap wine, taking drunken selfies with her mates in toilets, trying (often unsuccessfully) to get into bars - these are part of the fabric of life as an adolescent.
She explains: “There are a few reasons I drink. The main reason is because there isn't anything else to do. I'm in college all week and at work all weekend during the day.
“But if someone has a free house or there's a gig on, it means you can get out of the house and have a laugh, usually involving alcohol. It feels like a waste if I don't go out.”
One of the more startling aspects of the OECD’s findings is that on the whole, underage drinking in the UK has gone down. So why is it that are our young women hitting the bottle?
Isadora rejects the notion that girls are clinging to the ‘ladette’ culture which rose to prominence in the 1990s. In part, perhaps, because she was still in nappies when Zoe Ball et al were being vilified in the tabloids for enjoying a pint (shock, horror) and a fag (scandalous behaviour).
For her and her friends, it’s not about emulating the behaviour of men. It’s about freedom.
It’s probably no coincidence that this news comes following an NHS report which found that more than a quarter of women aged between 16 to 24 were suffering record levels of depression and anxiety, and that they are three times more likely to have a mental health problem than men in the same age bracket.
Isadora is no stranger to such problems, and alcohol provides her with a much-needed release from the stress of study and the FOMO-inducing world of social media, where the need to prove you’re having a better time than everyone else can be all-consuming.
She explains: “I'm naturally a nervous, over-thinking person who doesn't deal well with the stress of everyday life. Alcohol makes some people aggressive or sad, but I get a happy, relaxing buzz from it.
“It’s a release from the fear and the panic I experience most days."
Isadora's Instagram account is full of photos of drunken antics, unashamedly clutching cans of beer at a festival, usually masked by a flattering filter.
For her, social media is a double-edge sword. On the one hand it increases pressure on young women to look and act a certain way, but paradoxically it only takes a few likes on a photo to relieve that pressure. The click of a heart-shaped button represents acceptance and approval.
She explains: “Typically, I am not a confident girl. If I go out, I can dress to impress myself. It feels good to make an effort. Often, a night out is when I feel most in control of my life.”
Staying safe is important to Isadora and her mates. She says she never lets a girl go home on her own, and her pals look out for one another by putting each other in taxis, or dragging them away from potentially dangerous situations.
Does she ever feel vulnerable, or wake up worrying that she might’ve gone too far?
“There is an in-built idea that women, especially younger women, are more vulnerable and more likely to be attacked after drinking. I think we need to start thinking about the fact that everyone is vulnerable.
“Alcohol is a big part of my social life and the social lives of many other teenagers. We need to accept this and work on protecting each other, rather than judging people for drunken errors of judgement.”
The OECD found that the brightest young women are increasingly becoming what it calls ‘problem drinkers’. Twenty per cent of the most educated drink over the recommended amount each week, compared to nine per cent in the least educated.
Isadora is living proof that an A in GCSE Maths won’t stop you downing more than 14 units over 48 hours.
She says: “I am not proud of some of the decisions I have made while under the influence of alcohol, but I am proud to be a young person who is enjoying a fulfilling life surrounded by family, friends, academic success and a vibrant social life.
“Most teenagers you know will be doing it. Most will be unashamed of it.
“We know it doesn't improve our intelligence or future prospects, we are aware of the dangers, but alcohol offers a release from every-day drudgery. It has been around for hundreds of years and it's not going away any time soon.”