Young women who avoid alcohol in high school may go on binge drinking during their college years, exposing themselves to higher risks of sexual assault.

"This suggests that drinking-prevention efforts should begin before college," said Maria Testa, from the University of Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions, who led the study.

Of all young women whose biggest binge had included four to six drinks, one quarter said they'd been sexually victimised in the autumn semester. That included anything from unwanted sexual contact to rape.

The college years are notoriously linked with drinking. But little has been known about how young women change their high school drinking habits once they start college, the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs reports.

Accordingly, researchers followed 437 young women from high school graduation through freshman year of college, according to a Buffalo statement.

They found that of women who had never drunk heavily in high school (if at all), nearly half admitted to binge drinking at least once by the end of their first college semester.

And the more alcohol those binges involved, the greater the likelihood of sexual assault.

Of women who'd ever consumed 10 or more drinks in a sitting since starting college, 59 percent were sexually victimised by the end of their first semester.

The study also underscores the fact that even kids who don't drink in high school are at risk of heavy drinking once they head off to college, Testa concluded.