Twenty Units and a Self-Induced Coma


Binge drinking is a subject on everyone’s lips. How appropriate, then, that BBC 3 recently released a documentary entitled ‘Ready, Steady, Drink’. And, in a similar fashion to the cooking show after which it is aptly named, those who appeared in the documentary took only minuscule amounts of time to become excessively drunk. As a student immersed in the drinking culture I was interested to see just what the reality of the situation was. Living in an exciting bubble at university, it is rare that anyone sits back and thinks about the consequences you may face when you have left it.

The documentary focused on a few situations: the students, the extreme and even dangerous drinkers and those who take the responsibility of looking after them. It was shocking to watch familiar situations unfold – a game of ring of fire – and then the unfamiliar consequences – being picked up the floor by paramedics. In terms of factual content the documentary also excelled; it exposed many figures which saddened and even angered me.

The NHS spends £3.2 billion a year on alcohol-related sickness and injury, much of which is fuelled by ridiculously cheap alcohol prices: a unit of most alcohol costs less than a chocolate bar. These statistics were awful, but remained intangible. It became real, however, as the presenter spent a night on a London ‘Booze Bus’, so named because the local authorities have been forced to set aside a particular ambulance service for drunk and vulnerable individuals. While it is good that this initiative has emerged, allowing the regular ambulance service to help those who are truly sick , isn’t it sad that it was necessary?

Moreover, a local ‘Booze Tank’ has also been created to look after those who are brought back by the ‘Booze Bus’; they were traditionally taken to A&E. Described as the most ‘depressing’ place in the world by the presenter, its scenes were truly stomach churning as bodies flailed about like dummies, all life and integrity sucked out of their bones. It definitely makes you think about the true power of alcohol, a power which is regularly underestimated and disrespected.

The most informative part from a student point of view was when the presenter visited students and indulged in a game of ring of fire before going out. Every hour a breathalyser was used to test the amount of units consumed. Over the night the results became worryingly high and one male peaked at over 10 units. From watching it didn’t seem to be excessive drinking, but seeing as they surpassed the driving limit in under an hour, just what are we getting accustomed to? The following day all were breathalysed again and the majority of the students had zero readings whereas the presenter remained on the legal driving limit. The difference in the ability of their bodies to break down the alcohol shows how habitual binge drinking had impacted the students.

Having spent the night boozing with the students the presenter visited a nurse who demonstrated a chart with units consumed and the corresponding effect on the body. This was surprising as even after one unit, noticeable functions were reduced. Watching the fun-fuelled game of ring of fire there was no thought of how the students could be risking their lives and yet, at around 20 units an individual could be facing a self-induced coma. The NHS provides copious amounts of information about drinking and warns that the harmful effects of alcohol will not be noticeable until after a number of years. These could include liver problems, reduced fertility, high blood pressure, cancer and heart attack among others.

It is difficult to face realities such as these at a young age when everyone wants to experience all aspects of life. However, thinking back to the individuals picked up by the ‘Booze Bus’, dangerously sick, vulnerable, unhappy; they weren’t enjoying their night and neither were those who attended to them. Perhaps it is time to appreciate moderation because by living for the day, we literally might do just that.

The documentary:

NHS advice on binge drinking:


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