Children as young as 12 are drinking the equivalent of 19 glasses of wine a week, a report has found.
A study by the Schools Health Education Unit found that 4% of the 12- to 13-year-olds surveyed drank 28 or more units of alcohol in the last week. This exceeds the Government's daily unit guidelines for men (three to four units) and women (two to three units).
Three units equates to two small (125ml) glasses of wine (12%) or a whole pint of strong lager (5%) or cider, according to the charity Drinkaware.
The report, based on data collected from more than 83,000 pupils in Years Six, Eight and 10 across the UK, revealed that 11% of Year 10 pupils drank more than 10 units of alcohol in the last week.
Simon Antrobus, chief executive of the charity Addaction, said: "These new figures back up our own experiences. At Addaction, we know children who drink at younger ages are the ones who need help most. We also know that children whose parents misuse alcohol are more likely to develop their own problems later in life. It is essential that these children, and their families, have access to specialist support at the earliest possible opportunity."
Beer, larger and cider are popular choices with boys, while girls are opting for wine and spirits.
Almost a third of the Year 10 boys questioned drank at least a pint of beer or lager in the last seven days, while one in five had had one or more pints of cider. Of the Year 10 girls questioned, one in five drank at least one measure of spirits in the last week, while 16% had had one or more glasses of wine. Around a quarter of all the Year 10s admitted they had got drunk at least once in the last seven days, with about 15% getting drunk more than twice in the week.
Most are drinking at home or the house of a friend or relation, with only a small number buying alcohol from a supermarket, nightclub or off-licence.
Alcohol Concern said: "As well as the well-publicised trouble caused by young people drinking to get drunk in town centres at weekends, involvement in a drinking sub-culture at a young age can easily cause consumption to escalate. This can lead to risky behaviour in terms of sex and violence, and associated disruption to education and social development. Dependency can develop, and recent figures on liver disease in the young show that severe health problems can follow in only a few years."
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