I undertake the training rule to abstain from intoxicants causing heedlessness.
“Furthermore, abandoning the use of intoxicants, the disciple of the noble ones abstains from taking intoxicants. In doing so, he gives freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings. In giving freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings, he gains a share in limitless freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, and freedom from oppression…”
— from AN 8.39 (translated, Thanissaro Bhikkhu)
Avoiding, abstaining from evil;
refraining from intoxicants,
being heedful of the qualities of the mind:
This is the highest protection.
(from Snp 2.4, translated Thanissaro Bhikkhu)
A friend of mine once related his experience of being a resident assistant in a college (university) dormitory. One of his duties was to inform the student residents that they were permitted to become as intoxicated as they chose. However, regardless of how intoxicated they became, they would always be held responsible for their actions. So, if they were arrested, or thrown out of school, well, those were the consequences they would have to deal with.
Many unsupervised adults need to hear this admonishment today; the idea that being intoxicated with drink or drugs somehow excuses bad (or worse) behavior, is a non-starter. Drunk drivers and people who bully or physically attack others while high will use the defense that they don’t remember. But the karmic, and often legal, ramifications are the same as if they had deliberately set out to harm others, because in fact, becoming intoxicated, giving up self-regulation, is a form of violence to other beings.
That’s at the far end of the spectrum. The problem with moderation in the use of intoxicants is that we humans generally find self-regulation difficult. Heedlessness starts with the first drink or toke or snort, or whatever. Any hesitation in taking the first shot is halved for the second, and by the third or fourth hit, there’s no apparent reason to limit one’s indulgence.
There are people for whom self-discipline is not so hard, and maybe they do have “just a taste” and no more. In my experience, these folks are pretty rare. For me, the incentive to abstain from anything that might give me a high is “being heedful of the qualities of the mind”, as written in the poem above. Even a slight intoxication affects the mind in such a way that it becomes less sensitive, less perceptive and less able to consider others. And that’s just from the first dose.