INCREASING numbers of Welsh women are ignoring official advice and bingeing on alcohol several times a week, an alarming new documentary is set to reveal.
Fuelled by the glamorous cocktails of Sex and the City, steeled by the carefree approach to Chardonnay of Bridget Jones, and encouraged by happy-hour deals and evermore sophisticated marketing techniques, around half of all young Welsh women are hitting the bar heavily on one or two nights a week.
Pressure at work and more disposable income, combined with increased independence, all contribute to a society where women are out on the town just as much as men.
But health experts warn that the binge-drinking trend could see women facing problems by their early 30s - including cirrhosis of the liver, nerve damage and difficulties during pregnancy. Consuming alcohol heavily on just one or two days a week is more harmful than drinking moderately on a regular basis.
The Government is recognising the problem, today launching its National Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy.
Women drinkers of all ages will be high on the Government's hit-list. Under-age drinking, binge-drinking and the effects of glamorous marketing ploys are all set to be addressed by the strategy, drawn up by health ministers and the Prime Minister's strategy unit.
"More women now are drinking on a par with men," said a Home Office spokeswoman.
"This new strategy is quite wide ranging and will look at health and criminal aspects of drinking, especially under-age and binge-drinking."
The media regulator Ofcom is likely to conduct a review of drinks advertising. It could also consider stark health warnings on bottles, similar to those on cigarette packets, as voluntary codes of conduct are seen as failing.
Meanwhile, the attitude of the nation's female drinkers is captured in an S4C programme due to be broadcast a week on Wednesday. Produced by Cardiff-based Fflic, Merched ac Alcohol (Girls and Alcohol) follows three groups of women ranging from teenagers to college-leavers to professionals.
Focusing on the drinking habits of Welsh women, it reveals a number of startling statistics about their alcohol consumption in the UK:
Children between 11 and 15 now drink twice as much alcohol as they did in 1990;
14% of women aged 16-24 are drinking more than the daily safe level of alcohol, on at least one occasion a week;
48% of women aged 16-24 drink heavily over one or two days, instead of drinking moderately throughout the week.
Dewi Owen, of the Welsh Council on Alcohol and Other Drugs, said, "There was a stigma about it in the past but it is more open now, and there is no guilt or shame about going out and getting wasted. Marketing sweet drinks and making it seem okay for women to drink to excess has not helped the problem."
Director Becca Brown spent months filming and researching the hour-long programme.
"It can make for unsettling viewing, especially after a recent night out," she said. "We did not want to be too judgmental or alarmist - women drinking is in our society, we have to accept that - but things can get excessive."
The stories portrayed include one recovering alcoholic who said she was the life and soul of the party after a few drinks but soon needed a drink just to get out of bed; and another Welsh woman whose mother died because of a long addiction to alcohol.
Producer Mary Simmons said, "It is interesting to explore the attitudes within Wales at the moment, and how the Welsh people have traditionally coped with the problem.
"We see ourselves as quite a respectable and upstanding nation, but we all enjoy a drink - look at Cardiff on any given weekend. And then society goes and judges those who are alcoholic, even though we are almost led to these places where we all drink.
"Some things do need an eye kept on, like the nature of modern marketing techniques and the worrying number of people who say they cannot tackle certain situations without a drink."
Government figures also make for unsettling reading, revealing that the cost of alcohol abuse in terms of lost work and healthcare is £20bn a year; and by the age of 13, more children now drink alcohol than abstain.