Fewer teens are drinking alcohol, but those who do drink are consuming more than ever, a national survey reveals.
The number of teenagers who smoke has remained stable
The annual poll of 8,200 11 to 15-year-olds by the Information Centre found 21% had an alcoholic drink in the previous week, down from 26% in 2001.
But among pupils at 290 English schools who had drunk in the last seven days, the average consumption was 11.4 units, up from 10.4 units in 2000.
The government pledged to continue its drive to cut teen drinking.
Among those questioned about smoking, alcohol and drug use, boys tended to drink more than girls - the average consumption of boys who had drunk in the last seven days was 12.3 units (at least six pints of beer) compared to 10.5 for girls.
The pupils' experience of drinking tended to reflect their families' attitudes.
More than half of pupils (53%) thought their parents did not mind them drinking, as long as they didn't drink too much. A very small proportion (2%) said their parents let them drink as much as they liked.
And many said they had been given the alcohol either by a friend (26%), or a parent (23%).
The charity Alcohol Concern said the findings were worrying.
A spokesman said: "There is a sense that alcohol is innocuous. Some parents are relieved that their children are only drinking and not smoking or taking drugs.
"We have to get over the cultural misconception that alcohol is safe."
Deborah Cameron of specialist drug and alcohol treatment charity Addaction said: "It is clear from these latest figures that young people who are drinking under-age are drinking more than ever before. The increase in girls' drinking is particularly worrying.
"We don't fully realise the damage alcohol is doing to our kids - it has got to the stage where those young people who are drinking alcohol are drinking over the recommended safe limit for adult women."
No safe limit?
While there are guidelines for adults about the amounts of alcohol they can drink without risking their health, no such guidelines exist for adolescents, who are at a time of rapid physical, mental and emotional development.
It has been suggested that no amount of alcohol is safe for young teenagers to drink.
The government is commissioning research to find out what impact alcohol might have on growing adolescents.
And as part of its new alcohol strategy "Safe Sensible Social" it is running a responsible drinking campaign, aimed at helping young people and their parents make informed decision about drink.
Health Minister Ben Bradshaw said: "This report reveals that Government policies to tackle smoking, drinking and drug use among young people are having a positive impact.
"Despite these promising figures, we do recognise that there is still more to do to ensure children's lives and health are not blighted by substance misuse.
"We are committed to ensuring progress is maintained and young people are supported in making the right choices around smoking, drinking and drugs."
Shadow Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, said the government had failed to deliver the message to teenagers that alcohol is bad for their health.
"We have seen the burden of alcohol on the NHS rise at an unprecedented rate. Together with obesity, alcohol abuse represents the single greatest challenge to the NHS."
Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Sandra Gidley said: "The government must not get complacent as we are still amongst the worst in Europe."
The survey also found 17% had taken drugs once a month or more in 2006, down from 19% in 2005.
The proportion of pupils who have never smoked had risen to 61% in 2004, and has remained at a similar level since.