Numbers show that times may have changed in those five decades.
A survey by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that in 2003, 71.8 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds consumed alcohol in the past year. Slightly more than 36 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds said they had participated in binge drinking within the past month -- binge drinking is defined by SAMHSA as consuming five or more drinks on the same occasion at least once. Heavy drinking is binge drinking on more than five occasions in the past month, and 13.1 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds admitted to that.
Advocates of lowering the drinking age use examples such as this to make the forbidden-fruit argument. That if 18-year-olds could drink, it would take away some of the excitement of having to wait until 21.
Whether or not younger teens would then start drinking earlier with 18 as the new legal age is unknown.
For now, SAMSHA's survey shows that in 2003, 34.3 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds used alcohol in the past year. Of teens 12- to 17-years-old, 17.7 percent used in the past month, 10.6 percent binged in the last month, and 2.6 percent considered themselves heavy drinkers based on SAMSHA's description.
So the idea that younger teens could start abusing alcohol while waiting for their 18th birthday is not completely out of the question.