It is easy when you are relaxing on holiday - or even just enjoying the summer sun at home - to get carried away and overdo the booze.

But the dangers of binge drinking can be severe. Even government drinking guidelines - two to three units a day for women and three to four units for men - are designed to discourage it.

Women, particularly, have been steadily increasing their alcohol consumption over recent years, with the proportion of women drinking more than 14 units a week increasing from ten per cent in 1988 to 15 per cent in 1998.

And, in 2000, a government survey found the proportion of women who had drunk more than six units - its definition of a binge - on at least one day in the previous week had risen from eight per cent in 1998 to ten per cent in 2000.

Dr Moira Plant, co-director of the Alcohol and Health Research Centre at the University of the West of England in Bristol, says in terms of liver damage binge drinking is not as damaging as constant drinking. But she highlights the other dangers that make it such a hazardous business.

"Most of the harm is social or in the form of accidents, related to being unaware of things like fast cars as you are walking across the road," she says.

"If you're going to get into an argument, it happens when you've been drinking heavily, because alcohol magnifies your feelings."

Statistics show that more than a third of pedestrians killed in road accidents have been drinking and alcohol is estimated to be a factor in 20 to 30 per cent of all accidents.

Emma Elms, senior features writer at Cosmopolitan, agrees the effect of binge drinking on your behaviour can be a serious problem.

"On holiday, particularly, you're likely to drink more, because it's a time to really relax and let your hair down, especially if it's all girls together," she says.

"But alcohol obviously affects you more in the heat and makes you less wary than you would be if you were sober.

"You might go home with someone you wouldn't normally and, in the heat of the moment, you might get carried away and forget to use contraception, taking a huge risk of getting pregnant or contracting an STD."

In a 1999 Durex condoms report, 16 per cent of women admitted having unsafe sex after drinking too much and there are other, more sinister, dangers. "The more drunk you get, the more tempted you might be to accept drinks from a stranger which might be spiked with a date-rape drug," says Elms.

The immediate harm done to your body is also potentially grave, with the possibility in extreme cases of going into a coma or falling asleep on your back and drowning in your own vomit.

One of the problems for women who like to have a few drinks is that alcohol affects women more than it does men.

Women weigh less and have less fluid in their bodies to dilute alcohol. Research shows they also appear to have less alcohol dehydrogenase - the enzyme that begins the breaking down of alcohol - in their stomachs, which means the alcohol stays in their systems for longer.

This, according to Dr Plant, is the reason why women shouldn't try to match men drink for drink. It seems the "ladette" image once popularised by stars such as DJs Sara Cox and Zoe Ball, before she was a mother, is not one we should aim to emulate.

However, it could be argued that certain factors push us towards drinking more.

"Our lives are more stressful because we're working harder and longer hours and drinking after work, or at the weekend, helps us relax," says Elms.

"Our role models on TV shows such as Sex And The City are drinking and making it socially acceptable and glamorous. Bars are also marketed at women much more these days, as are drinks such as alcopops."

Another problem, says Dr Plant, is the confusion over how many units are in certain drinks.

With a lot of wine being stronger than it was in the past and the prevalence of strong beers and ciders, plus alcopops, it is easy to be mistaken about how much alcohol you've consumed.

It is probably unrealistic to imagine you'll never get drunk or pretend it can't be fun. But if you know you are likely to drink a lot on a night out, Elms has some tips to minimise the incidental dangers.

"On holiday, make sure you organise your mobile to work abroad before you go.

"Keep an eye on your drink, look out for your friends and make sure you know how you are getting home. And if you're going to have sex, make sure you are safe."