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Binge Drinking Epidemic Among British Women

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It's Friday night and you're a British female between the ages of 14 and 75 "“ what are you going to do? As likely as not, you're going out to get pissed.

According to recent research, women in Britain are big drinkers. As in, wasted before they even get to the bar, dancing on (and falling off) tables, throwing up on Tube tracks, and urinating in doorways. Women in England and Ireland drink more than their European sisters, and more than many in the rest of the world. Although men still consume more units of alcohol than women, the ladies are catching up fast as rates of drinking among women is rising more rapidly than rates of drinking among men. The rates of women dying from alcohol-related diseases has more than doubled since 1991 and liver specialists say that where middle-aged men used to make up the majority of their caseload, women as young as 26 are increasing in number.

Drinking is something of a national sport in the UK, a kind of time-honored tradition that could only spring from the country that invented the G&T. Alcohol has long been part of the fabric of British life "“ witness any book by Evelyn Waugh or PG Wodehouse.

But while characters in books and movies can getaway with multiple martinis before dinner with little ill effect (or, in Bertie Wooster's case, with a brilliant butler to set him to rights), real people can't. And now, Britain is reaping the fruit of a long time love affair with the drink.

In 2007, the Daily Mail ran a special report on the growing problem of binge drinking. Among the more inflammatory headlines included a report about 8-year-old school children showing up to school hungover. More recent surveys have found that British teenagers routinely out-drink most of their European components, with 54 percent of them claiming to binge drink (that's five or more alcoholic beverages in one go).

But what's got folks here concerned isn't just that British teenagers rank fifth among binge drinking teenagers out of 35 European countries, but that binge-drinking teenage girls are inflating their numbers. Teenage girls, the survey suggests, are binge drinking more than teenage boys. Other statistics show that more than 5,000 teenage girls ended up in the hospital after a night of boozing last year alone. That's a relatively big number for a small island.

But it's not all teenage girls out for a night of hilarity and tears "“ middle-aged professional women are more likely to over-drink than any other age and socio-economic group of women, and to do it at home, as well.

Of course, there's also a good dose of hysteria mixed in with these statistics, with newspapers "“ the same ones that follow Lady GaGa's every costume change "“ shrieking headlines about the scourge of lady drinking. Which is why the BBC recently worked up a documentary about lady drinking, featuring the adorable Cherry Healey working her way through what she called the seven ages of drinking, drinking with girls age 14 to grandmothers, in an attempt to get to the bottom of the lady booze phenomenon. (Watch here until Monday.)

It's sad watching "“ but utterly fascinating. The program is littered with horrifying informational tidbits definitely meant to shock and appall: 60 percent of 18-to-24-year-old girls drink just to get wasted; binge drinking among teenage girls is on the rise, whilst its on the decline among teenage boys; alcohol costs the National Health Service £2.7 billion a year in emergency room calls and through things like the booze bus, a mobile command center that deals with a lot of London's drunks. We find this last bit out when Healey spends an evening out with the unit, watching teenage girls wail about wanting their mummy after vomiting violently into a plastic basin.

But these factoids take a backseat to the depressing human drama the program is meant to capture. Healy spends one evening drinking with some underage teenagers, in the bedroom of one girl while her mother is downstairs. "I don't like the taste of it, but I like the effect," says Rio, a 14-year-old binge drinker, taking a pull, through a straw, of course, off a bottle of Bacardi.

"We have no control," her mother says later, adding, "we feel that we're helpless."

Asked what life would be like without booze, Rio replies, "So boring it would be unbelievable."

The show, while not the most objective of journalistic exercises, hits on some of the deepest reasons why women drink. And they're pretty simple, throughout the ages Healey drinks with: Alcohol for women is liquid courage, it's a cure for boredom, a social lubricant, a way to break down that famed "British reserve," a quick shot of relaxation, and a truth serum. But primarily, and perhaps most disturbingly, it's confidence.

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Let Alexa Help You Brine a Turkey This Thanksgiving
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There’s a reason most of us only cook turkey once a year: The bird is notoriously easy to overcook. You could rely on gravy and cranberry sauce to salvage your dried-out turkey this Thanksgiving, or you could follow cooking advice from the experts.

Brining a turkey is the best way to guarantee it retains its moisture after hours in the oven. The process is also time-consuming, so do yourself a favor this year and let Alexa be your sous chef.

“Morton Brine Time” is a new skill from the cloud-based home assistant. If you own an Amazon Echo you can download it for free by going online or by asking Alexa to enable it. Once it’s set up, start asking Alexa for brining tips and step-by-step recipes customized to the size of your turkey. Two recipes were developed by Richard Blais, the celebrity chef and restaurateur best known for his Top Chef win and Food Network appearances.

Whether you go for a wet brine (soaking your turkey in water, salt, sugar, and spices) or a dry one (just salt and spices), the process isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. And the knowledge that your bird will come out succulent and juicy will definitely take some stress out of the holiday.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.


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