FURTHER confirmation emerged this week that alcohol is a more serious problem among young children than drugs.
A study by Strathclyde University found that 60 per cent of 12 to 14-year-olds had taken alcohol with varying degrees of frequency. Three-quarters had had a drink before the age of 12.
By contrast, almost all primary children and nearly 80 per cent of secondary pupils were found not to have taken drugs in a major piece of research by Moray House Institute involving 4,400 pupils, published earlier this year.
The alcohol study covered 687 children from eight secondary schools in the west of Scotland, so drinkers accounted for just over 400 children.
Contrary to popular assumptions, they are largely introduced to alcohol by their parents (55 per cent). And they drink not because of peer pressure (18.7 per cent) but mainly because they "like the taste" (64.5 per cent); the second reason cited in the study is "to get drunk" (28.4 per cent).
The most frequent times for consuming alcohol are given as "just on special occasions" (53.6 per cent), which may be when their parents allowed them their first taste. But more than a quarter claim to drink weekly.
The research study, led by Clive Rowlands, head of Strathclyde's community education department, points out that there is no issue of legality if the alcohol is purchased by parents or older friends, even although the youngsters are under-age.
But there must be "some measure of concern" that, of the 11 per cent who said they got drink for themselves, nearlyhalf purchased it illegally in a supermarket or off-licence and 84 per cent of those were not asked to prove their age.
The study does, however, knock on the head the image of furtive drinking. Most is done at home or at a friend's house, which is unsurprising if most drink is provided by parents at home.
"There is very little evidence of drinking in school grounds, youth clubs, pubs, industrial estates or graveyards," the report states. But it notes the "surprisingly high" intake at discos, which may be in the category of "occasional drinking" but is none the less illegal.
Mr Rowlands said that the study reinforced findings from earlier research. But he was taken aback by the relative ease with which children appeared to be able to obtain alcohol.
Of the 40 per cent who said that they did not drink, a quarter were worried about effects on their health. The report suggests this could imply "a link to the impact of health education, giving these respondents a positive attitude towards being health conscious or aware". A further 23 per cent did not drink because their parents had forbidden it.
Mr Rowlands said it was impossible to know whether pupils were overstating or understating their drinking habits. But the researchers had tried hard to obtain honest replies, rejecting home interviews in favour of questionnaires in schools.
The Strathclyde team will publish another report later this summer based on findings from a comparative study on alcohol consumption among the same age group in the Netherlands.