TUESDAY, Feb. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Heavy drinking in the late teen years often continues into adulthood and is associated with long-term alcohol-related problems, researchers warn.

There is sufficient evidence to show that reducing drinking among older teens not only prevents immediate harm, but also may lower the risk of long-term problems, the study authors pointed out.

The researchers reviewed 54 studies that examined the effects of alcohol consumption in adulthood, including alcoholism, criminal offenses, mental health problems, smoking, educational achievement and death.

The findings are published in the Feb. 8 online edition of PLoS Medicine.

"Late adolescent alcohol consumption appears a probable cause of increased drinking well into adulthood, through to ages at which adult social roles have been achieved," study author Jim McCambridge, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in London, and colleagues wrote in their report.

But, the researchers said, although they found consistent evidence that heavy use of alcohol by older teens often is associated with high rates of consumption into adulthood, and even alcohol dependence, many of the studies they reviewed were poorly designed, so there is an urgent need for better studies in this area.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about underage drinking.