Teenagers who excel at sport in high school are more likely to binge-drink than their peers, even though they lead otherwise healthy lives.
New research shows that while young athletes rarely smoked or took drugs, they were more likely to enjoy alcohol and had a tendency for binge-drinking.
Bad drinking habits continued into adulthood, the study by Mike Planty, of the American Institutes for Research, found. But eight years after leaving high school the former athletes were more likely to have higher qualifications, be in full-time employment and earn more money than non-athletes. They were also fitter than most of their former schoolmates despite being heavier drinkers.
Mr Planty told the AERA conference that athletes binged on alcohol because training schedules prevented them from drinking regularly and in moderation. He added that group sports also encouraged a "party atmosphere" after games.
Schools needed to focus more on the dangers of alcohol abuse and how it affected sporting performance to deter youngsters from drinking, Mr Planty said.
The study tracked 8,500 former sportsmen and women from 1992, when they were still at high school, to 2000, when they were in their early 20s.
In 2000, more than three out of 10 admitted to binge-drinking - defined as five or more drinks on a single occasion - compared with 20 per cent of their former classmates. However, 87.9 per cent of the former athletes, compared with 77.2 per cent of their ex-classmates, continued to participate in sport at least once a week. High school athletes also fared better academically. More than 40 per cent achieved at least a Bachelor of Arts degree, compared with 27.2 per cent of other students.
Mr Planty said: "The findings suggest that programmes should target the early onset and socialisation of alcohol use and target high-risk adolescents."