An informal study on alcohol consumption in Nova Scotia shows some disturbing trends among the province’s youth when it comes to underage drinking.

The study by the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness has found that youth are drinking before they become teenagers, and binge drinking is often encouraged by peers.

According to the study, alcohol use by Nova Scotians increase by 17.6 per cent between 1989 and 2008. The average age when their first drink is taken is just under 13.

“I would say it’s fairly similar throughout the province,” says Sophie Melanson of Nova Scotia Addiction Services. “Certainly we’re seeing a lot of youth affected in all, throughout the province.”

Municipalities across the province are taking part in a municipal alcohol project called The Culture of Alcohol. During the past three months, more than 80 people in Pictou County held community conversations about the issue.

“This is the first time the community is coming together to talk about these issues and see what the issues are out there,” says Lynn MacDonald, a councillor for the town of Westville, N.S.

“We have an opportunity still ahead of us to engage youth and ask them, what do you see as a solution?”

A common concern is underage drinking, as well as a degree of acceptance by families, as long as youth are supervised.

“Drinking responsibly is one thing, but allowing our youth and setting a culture where it’s OK for youth to drink as a rite of passage, that’s not acceptable,” says Pictou County RCMP Staff Sgt. Steve Halliday.

Another factor is the increased level of advertising and accessibility for alcoholic products. Concerts and sporting events are often sponsored by alcohol companies and the ads themselves often target a younger crowd.

Some say the message of moderation is getting lost.

“It’s not how much we drink, it’s how we drink,” says Melanson. “So, we’re not necessarily bigger drinkers than anywhere in Canada, but it’s how we drink, is more hazardous to our health.”

The ultimate goal of the project is to ensure young people understand the dangers of underage and excessive drinking.

“Make sure they’re getting the right message about responsible drinking versus binge drinking, versus drinking that could become problematic for them later on in their lives,” says Halliday.

Participants say change in the culture of acceptance should also involve government participation.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Dan MacIntosh