I grew up in Sweden, one of few European countries where the government controls the sale of alcoholic beverages tightly. The opening hours of liquor stores are restricted and you have to be twenty (and armed with an ID if you look under fifty) to buy. When I was a teenager, we used to seek out the town drunks, living their tattered lives on park benches in the city centre, and offer them a bottle of cheap wine if they bought a few bottles of the same shit for us. Easy, but highly illegal of course.
I went to a high school for the performing arts, which caused me to live a two-hour drive away from my parents, in an apartment of my own at 16. This apartment quickly became a hub for all the partyingmy friends and I did.
In my apartment people vomited in the sink, on the floor, out the window, in my bed. People passed out, cried, threatened suicide, pissed themselves, had bad drunken sex, sloppy make-out sessions. People blacked out, browned out. Got in fights, revealed others' secrets. The way we carried on though, felt completely normal. I didn't know anyone who didn't drink, not until much later when some were forced to recognise that perhaps, their drinking had spiraled way out of control, and started on 12-step programmes or went to rehabs.
Most of my old friends are 'fine' these days. They have careers, families etc. Some are famous. Some wealthy. A lot of people still abuse alcohol, but it's not recognized as such.
Drinking until your legs are wobbly, your speech slurred, until you do stupid shit. Until you vomit -- this has always been normalised behavior where I come from. And I cringe when I think how often I have been that drunk ...
I moved to the States to go to University, and ended up living there for 13 years. The same kind of shit was going on there. But maybe just a shade or two less intense. And also, while living in the States I started having friends who didn't drink, and also friends who didn't get drunk.
Now, I've lived over 8 years in Berlin -- the capital of hedonism. There's a lot of drinking, but also lots of drugs -- something that I didn't grow up with.
At this point in my life I know lots of people who don't drink, and even more people who don't get drunk. I also know lots of people who I feel have a drinking problem, while ten years ago I probably wouldn't have thought anything of their drinking habits.
One of the 5 precepts of Buddhism is to steer clear of intoxication. And this for the lack of self control that drinking/drugging can cause. And because it's musch easier to maintain the other four precepts if one remains sober.
Many other religions/spiritual practices also condemn alcohol.
Even though I don't drink nearly as much as I once did these days, I have always been heavily into good food and drink. And I never ever thought that I would be able to give up drinking good wines, Champagne (my favourite!), a great cocktail, and Aperol Spritz or a cold beer on a hot day. I'm still not sure that I will give it up completely. But I definitely keep cutting back.
I drink alcohol-free beer mostly now. And I've found it works better for me. If you get the right brand, it tastes good and you don't get drunk and therefore also not hungover. But it still makes me feel like I am taking a break, or can continue the deep conversation with a friend a bit longer while having something to sip on.
The other night I went to dinner with a friend. We ate at a raw vegan restaurant, and I drank 2 glasses of organic white wine with dinner. I also drank plenty of water and was in bed shortly after 23:00. I woke up with a slight headache and for most of the day my body and mind felt heavy. A little bit like I had been poisoned ... and yeah, alcohol is poison, isn't it?
I have used alcohol to relax. To be able to flirt. To not be too nervous before playing shows with my rock'n'roll band. I have used alcohol to deal with the pain of a broken heart. I have used alcohol to have a good time. To create an intimate atmosphere. To elevate the experience of good food. To mourn. To celebrate. With varying result.
And now I'm discovering that a lot of the activities I used to pair with alcohol, are either totally doable without or alcohol was simply a must to be able to stand that activity. The people. The party. The bullshit small talk. So, I'd rather not put myself in those situations any more.