A new study looking at the drinking patterns of 9,000 adolescents in Australia and New Zealand has been published in the latest issue of the international journal Addiction.

It was led by researchers from the University of New South Wales and the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) and followed young people from ages 13 to 30.

Co-author Professor George Patton from MCRI and lead investigator on the Victorian Adolescent Health Cohort Study said the study provides some of the most robust evidence to date that early patterns of drinking are not limited to adolescence but rather persist into adulthood. They are also associated with a range of alcohol-related problems.

"The study further debunks the myth that teen experimentation with alcohol promotes responsible drinking, instead it sets a young person up for later-life problem drinking," Prof Patton said.

Lead author of the study Dr Edmund Silins said that the findings suggest that delaying drinking would have significant public health benefits. As well public health messages need to focus as much on frequency of drinking as the amount consumed.

"Discouraging or delaying alcohol use in adolescence is likely to have substantial benefits in adulthood in terms of preventing harmful drinking behaviours which adversely affect health and wellbeing," Dr Silins said.  

He said public health messages could also be refocussed to reflect the importance of drinking frequency and the study provides robust evidence for policymakers, health promoters, and parents.

"Current public health messages tend to focus on the amount consumed, and there are fewer messages recommending less frequent drinking," Dr Silins said.

A surprising finding of the study was that there were no direct associations between adolescent drinking and negative psycho-social outcomes such as sexual risk taking early parenthood and mental health problems 

Dr Silins said that these adverse outcomes were more likely to be explained by shared risk factors for early alcohol use than the alcohol itself.