In a society that favors instant gratification using drugs and alcohol to help deal with reality fits perfectly. With online shopping, downloadable movies and music, speed dating, chat rooms, dating and porn sites galore people have learned that anything they want they can get right now or they just move on.
When a person has serious issues that they need to deal with there usually is no quick fix, healing takes time and pain is often involved. So they have a choice, struggle and hurt or just pop a pill, down a shooter or chug a beer. In our society at this time quicker is usually better.
Drugs and alcohol represent a juvenile defense mechanism. Just get stoned, high or drunk and presto like magic no problems. Until you sober up or get straight and guess what the problem is still there. Dealing with past issues and with present issues requires a determination and a strength that most drug users and alcoholics don't have.
It is helpful to know some of how defense mechanisms work. A defense mechanism is there, developed by the individual, to protect him or herself from some threat or hurt, be it real or perceived. As children they have developed imaginary friends and playmates to talk to, become distant, controlling, passive and submissive, or they act out, become overtly aggressive or sexual to deal with the situation. An example would be a child who is abused could become overly pleasing, "if I give mommy whatever she wants she won't hurt me."
The problem with this is when these mechanisms become ingrained within their personality or a fixed part of his or her repertoire of defense. Then as they get older and into more complex problems and issues they try to use these childish behaviors and they don't work. Most teens will experiment with drinking early and if it happens that they feel some relief from their life, drinking often becomes their escape.
A sad part of this issue and one that really encourages the drinking behavior; and to some extent the drug use, especially prescription drugs; is societal acceptance of drinking and in some cases drug use. A person who is using alcohol to deal with their reality is not shunned, or thought of as a bad person, not until they become a slobbering falling down drunk, otherwise society finds a way to excuse such behavior. Things like "Oh he is under so much stress" or " If I had to live with that so and so I'd get drunk too."
There is an acceptance of all kinds of over the counter and prescription drugs in our society, especially the anti-depressants and the mood enhancing drugs. In most parts of society there is an unwritten acceptance of the milder forms of illegal drugs, acceptance by silence.
So when one considers all of this it is easy to see why drinking and drug use are a popular escape.