Lead author Dr. Emmanuel Kuntsche of the Swiss Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Problems in Lausanne, Switzerland, said past studies suggested that the age at which teens start drinking is a key factor in whether they eventually develop alcohol-related problems, such as fights, having academic or work problems.
Kuntsche and colleagues surveyed 364 teens three times during a two-year period.
The study, published in the May issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, found that, in general, teens who reported an earlier drinking age during the first survey tended to be drinking more heavily by the second survey and were at greater risk of drinking-related problems by the third survey.
However, only teens who reported both a later drinking age and a high-quality relationship with their parents had a lower risk of drinking problems compared with their peers.
Kuntsche said a high-quality relationship was one where teens felt they could discuss their problems with their parents and that their parents respected their feelings.