YOUNG people in Bolton are having their first taste of alcohol at the age of 12 or 13, a survey has revealed.
But fewer children in the town are drinking compared with the average for the region, according to figures from the North West Public Health Observatory.
Bolton’s specialist substance misuse service for young people, 360°, which focuses particularly on alcohol, offers sessions to primary schools by request and to secondary schools.
Healthy schools coordinator Marie Bisset, who helps run sessions in schools, said: “Young people are drinking less than they were in Bolton.
“There are now more young people who are not drinking and it looks like it’s a downward trend. People are aware of the damage alcohol can do, whereas before they might have just thought drinking was a laugh.”
Informal sessions at schools are run by NHS Bolton’s healthy schools team and sex and relationship education staff, and are tailored to particular age groups.
Alcohol education for 12 and 13-year-olds involves learning about the effects of alcohol, while older children learn how alcohol can fuel aggression or give someone the courage to handle an unsafe situation.
Year 11 pupils are taught how to look after someone when drunk, including putting them in the recovery position, and shown pictures of alcohol and asked to guess what the equivalent calorie count would be in sweet treats.
One image shown to students is a picture of half a bottle of vodka, which, drunk with Coke, would be the equivalent of eating chips, a Snickers, Twix and Mars chocolate bars and a Cadbury’s Creme Egg.
Mrs Bissett said: “Primary schoolchildren will say alcohol is terrible, but then there’s definitely a shift in attitude in about Year Nine.
“It is probably in Year Eight or Nine that they are starting to have a sip of alcohol.
The attitude changes from ‘I am never going to drink’ to it’s a bit of a thrill.”
She said she advises children to delay their drinking until later in life and to drink safely.
Mrs Bissett added: “Some really young children have said ‘if you drink alcohol you get hit’.
“If they are seeing domestic violence when somebody has a drink then they can make different choices.”
The education sessions can be tailored to fit issues in the community, such as when there is a rise in alcohol-related A&E admissions or arrests.
Jayne Littler, Bolton’s strategic commissioning and development manager for public health, said: “When young people drink they are more likely to do something silly.
“They might do things like agree to sex or go further than they want to.
“The most difficult thing is trying to get young people to understand the longterm health problems of drinking.”
The women said, from their experience, young people drink strong drinks such as cider and vodka, and they tend to drink at home as they know they will not be able to get access to alcohol anywhere else.
But Mrs Littler added: “The majority of young people are brilliant and want to enjoy themselves sensibly and safely.”