I became an alcoholic at 12 - and it's my mum's fault...
The party was in full swing, with an assortment of children gazing at the birthday girl as she blew out her candles. No one noticed an angelic-faced 12-year-old sneak off to a corner of the room, pick up a glass of sherry poured for an elderly aunt, and knock it back with one swift gulp.
No half measures: Hazel as she was as a child...
Smiling at the familiar taste, young Hazel Maguire next turned her attention to the drinks cabinet in the empty dining room - deftly pouring herself one sherry after another. Finally, she carefully topped up the half-empty bottle from a water decanter so her drinking would remain a secret.
It was the kind of surreptitious act one might expect from a seasoned alcoholic. Yet this auburn-haired schoolgirl with a glowing school report and dreams of becoming a vet was already addicted to alcohol.
Ten years on, she freely admits that she is still in its grip. Now 22 and an estate agent, Hazel recalls drinking herself almost into a stupor as a child at her cousin's birthday party. She says: "It didn't take long for the alcohol to take effect. As the party wore on, I began to feel more and more tipsy, and by the time it came to kiss my aunt goodbye the room was spinning - I still can't believe no one noticed.
"Mum and Dad would never have dreamed that their precious little girl had spent the whole party knocking back sherry. When I got home, I forced myself to put one foot in front of the other as I staggered up to bed. The next day, I had a bit of a sore head, but it seemed well worth it considering the fun I'd had the night before."
Hazel's story was given added resonance this week after the reported story of Jack Strom, 13, from Brighton, whose mother released a picture of him lying unconscious in hospital following a life-threatening drink binge.
His story came in the wake of new figures which showed Britain is now among the worst in Europe for teen drunkenness and alcohol abuse. In 2005-6, an average of two dozen teenagers were treated in hospital every day.
One of the most disturbing elements of this modern epidemic is that so many of these youngsters come from good homes. Jack Strom's mother, for example, is a bank worker, while Hazel Maguire was an adored only child whose father, now 54, was a graphic designer, and her mother, 55, a stay-at-home mum. At her state school in Bromley, Kent, she excelled.
Ironically, it was her parents' fear that Hazel would start binge drinking like other teenagers that led to her spiral of bitterness and despair.
Like so many other parents, they decided to gently introduce their daughter to small tastes of wine at the age of 12, so she would learn to "respect" alcohol.
Hazel says: "I'll never forget my first sip of wine. It was October 1997, and I was 12. I saw my dad drinking chardonnay, and I asked if I could try some. To my astonishment, he asked if I wanted a glass, and I tried it. I loved the taste, the feeling of confidence and the way I felt so grown up.
"On the Monday morning, I raced in to tell my friends at school and it made me the coolest girl in my class. No one else had even tasted wine, and I had enjoyed a whole glass as I sat with my parents.
"They believed that if they allowed me, their only child, to have a glass of wine or a shandy under their supervision it would encourage me to have a healthy attitude towards drinking, like them - they were social drinkers only.
But the plan was to backfire in the most disastrous fashion. "Now, after battling an addiction to alcohol that has ruled my life for a decade and shattered my confidence, I think it was completely wrong of them to introduce me to booze at that age.
"While I can understand the logic behind their thinking, I hold them partly responsible for my alcoholism.
"After that first glass of white wine, I was allowed similar quantities at the weekends, over dinner when my parents were drinking, and at family parties. I liked the effects just one glass had on me. It was a nice, warm, floaty feeling that made me relaxed and everything around me seem more fun.
"But, when that wore off I always wanted more. If my parents wouldn't give me a refill, I'd wait until they weren't looking and top it up myself.
"This behaviour continued and by the time I was 13, I was sneaking a can of beer or a glass of whisky from my parents' drinks cabinet most days. I usually did it after dinner and then stayed in my room for the rest of the evening.
"I remember lying on my bed feeling so contented in my drunken state and I didn't feel guilty at all. After all, my parents were perfectly happy to let me have a glass of wine on a Saturday night - why was drinking on a Tuesday night any different?
"By the time I was 14, I had a serious drink problem I'd managed to conceal from all the adults around me. Along with a few friends, I'd go out to pubs on Thursday, Friday or Saturday nights, telling my parents I was at a friend's house.
"Not once did we get turned away from bars or nightclubs. At the time, we thought we looked so mature, but looking back it's obvious they knew we were underage - they simply didn't care.
"It makes me furious to think that they could be so irresponsible and I also hold them accountable for the habit I developed. It was also incredibly easy to get served in the local off-licence.
"By the time I was 15, I was drinking a quarter bottle of vodka - because it was the hardest to smell on my breath - nearly every day. I mainly drank in the evenings because I didn't want to get caught drunk at school.
"It's a miracle I managed to concentrate in my classes because I had such a terrible hangover most days. My hair was dull and lifeless and I was covered in spots - all the things that heavy drinking does to you.
"Like most teenagers would, my friends thought it was 'cool' that I drank so much and I felt like a rebel for doing it."
Incredibly, Hazel's parents appear not to have noticed her slide from the conscientious, fresh-faced daughter who beamed out from various school photographs over the years to the dulleyed, sweaty and pasty-faced teenager she had become.
Little did they know that every single penny of her £10 pocket money was going on cheap booze.
It was only in 2001 - just before Hazel's 16th birthday - that her drinking problems were suddenly and violently exposed.
She recalls: "My friend's parents were away for the weekend so she invited over 50 people to her house for a party. I was slumped in a corner all night knocking back a mixture of vodka, rum and cola.
"It was only when I tried to stand up at midnight to make my way home that the full effects of what could have been a lethal cocktail really hit me.
"My head spinning, I lost my balance and had to crawl on my hands and knees to get to the door - being sick everywhere as I went.
"All my friends seemed to think it was funny, but then they were used to seeing me in that state. When I reached the front garden, I collapsed and was found unconscious 20 minutes later by one of the neighbours, who got my friend to call my parents.
"By the time my dad arrived I'd come round and could see that he was horrified to find me in such a state. 'What have you done to yourself?' he asked in disbelief. My mum was in floods of tears as she put me to bed, and the next day the arguments began.
"My parents wanted to know how long I'd been drinking for and why I was letting myself get into such a state. All I could say was that I couldn't help it - I told them that I needed to drink.
"At first they didn't believe me, telling me not to be ridiculous, but soon, after a couple of months, they realised I had a serious problem. They wanted me to stay in and to seek help - my mum even took me to the doctor, who offered me all sorts of counselling, but I didn't want to stop.
"Even though I knew how bad alcohol was for me, I still enjoyed going out partying and loved the buzz I got from drinking. By then I was downing a bottle of wine a day and far more at weekends when I'd down shot after shot of vodka.
"After nearly six months of constant battles with my parents, I moved out when I was 16 to live with a female friend who was three years older than me.
"My parents begged me not to go, but there was nothing legally they could do and I knew I couldn't cope with the constant pressure to stop drinking.
"I was totally out of control and with hindsight I can see why they were desperate for me to get help. Unfortunately, like most alcoholics, I needed to come to that realisation on my own."
Incredibly, Hazel, had managed to pass 11 GCSEs without really studying - but by now there were few celebrations in the Maguire household.
Her parents were devastated and despairing at their daughter's behaviour. Far from going on to study A-levels and follow her dream of becoming a vet, she left school.
Hazel shrugs and shakes her head at the memory. She says: "I found a job in sales for a property company. Now it infuriates me to think what I could have done with my life had I not been addicted to alcohol. I would have got my A-levels, gone to university and become a vet.
"Work was merely a way to make money to pay for drink, but to my surprise I did enjoy my job and began to climb the ladder. It's a myth that all alcoholics drink in the morning. I have only ever drunk in the afternoon and evenings, but I am definitely still an addict. However, because of this I was able to hold down a full-time job and my boss never suspected a thing.
"In 2005 I moved to another property company as an estate agent and I still work there today. By then, I'd fallen in with a crowd who went out drinking all the time. Every weekend, I'd be downing shots at the bar in some nightclub, then stumbling home.
"Drink impairs your judgment. I've done so many stupid and dangerous things that I cringe about when I'm sober. Once I smashed a window at a party 'for a laugh'. I remember picking up a plant pot and chucking it at the glass. I'd drunk so much vodka that I really believed it was a funny thing to do.
"On other occasions I've staggered home down dark lanes on my own or caught unlicensed mini cabs alone.
"So far, I've been lucky, but I know it's only a matter of time till I get myself in a position I'm too drunk to escape from."
It is a depressing catalogue of shameful and dangerous nights out, and mornings when she has been barely able to function. But can Hazel really blame her parents for all her troubles? Many will feel her lack of willpower in battling this destructive habit is far more to blame than her parents' ill-advised attempts to educate her about alcohol.
Hazel, though, who lives in a one bedroom flat in Bromley, Kent, insists she is in the grip of a compulsion-from which she cannot escape.
"Countless times I've tried to have a night without booze, but I get terrible withdrawal symptoms. I shake all over and come out in a cold sweat.
"There is no way I could get to sleep without a drink, so I have one or else I'd be up all night and unable to go to work the following morning. It's a vicious circle.
"Five months ago, I asked my GP for help and she gave me a list of support groups and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but I haven't been able to pluck up the courage to go yet. I'm so worried that I won't be able to cope without a drink.
"I keep in touch with my parents, but I don't see them very often because I can't stand the pressure they put me under to stop drinking.
"Yes, I resent them for introducing me to alcohol at such a young age. I was too immature to know the dangers, but they should have known better."
But her mother, Anne, denies having turned her daughter into an alcoholic, despite letting her drink at such a tender age. She told the Mail: "We genuinely thought that giving Hazel a little taste of alcohol was a good thing. More often than not it was mixed with lemonade and never for a second did we think it would lead to her being the way she is now.
"Her father and I thought that if we let her have a taste of wine she would be less likely to go out and binge drink, because when it was offered to her at a party or a disco it wouldn't hold a novelty factor. We were trying to do the right thing.
"I don't believe that it was our actions that made her an alcoholic. I think she has an addictive personality and would have been this way regardless of what we did. I've thought long and hard about it, and I worried about whether or not we are to blame, but I really don't think we are.
"I know plenty of parents who acted as we did and their children have a normal, healthy attitude towards drinking.
"Of course, I still worry about her and what she is doing to her body, but she is a grown up now and must make her own decisions.
"The last time we spoke, about a week ago, she told me how much she regrets getting herself in this position and for the first time I really did believe her when she said she would try to change her ways. Maybe she is finally realising she has to - before it's too late."
Whoever is to blame, Hazel's sorry tale is becoming increasingly common, with record numbers of children as young as 12 now being treated for alcohol addiction.
The statistics don't come as any shock to the young alcoholic: "I'm not at all surprised," says Hazel. "In the UK our attitudes to booze are far too liberal.
"When I see other young women queuing up to get into clubs, I wish I could tell them not to do it to themselves. Be it binge drinking on a Friday night or knocking back a bottle of wine a night, drinking too much ruins your life."
And she should know. Hazel has now been warned by a doctor-that this deadly habit may cost her her life.
She says: "My doctor has advised me that if I don't stop drinking soon I might not make it to 30 because of the damage I am doing to my organs, particularly my liver.
"I'd like to think I'll stop in time, but I'm not sure I'll ever manage to give up, because I'm so hooked. I've gone from child alcoholic to adult addict."
Only time will tell if she goes on to become yet another depressing statistic. By then, it will be too late for her to blame her grieving parents.