First of all--Billy Joel? It's easy to forget now after a 40-year career as a purveyor of various forms of schmaltz--but before 1977, there was an actual edge to Joel, and this is perhaps the best example of it. It is an absolutely devastating putdown of all the pretentiousness of suburban white boys scoring dope in the early 1970's--the emptiness of their lives, the vapid monotony of getting high, the fact that what they are doing is going to ensure that they remain in, rather than allow them to escape, their self-contained prison of insecurity and inability to find meaning in their lives.
Every verse is full of venom. Every stanza is a challenge, every word a devastating indictment of the unwillingness, not inability, to take responsibility for living life. Billy Joel--Billy Joel!--is calling out the dopers, telling them that they don't have to get messed up, that their traumas are not so bad, that if they would just try a little, they'd be better off--and that the cornucopia of drugs listed in the song--pot, dope, alcohol--may deaden the sense of not fitting in, of not belonging, temporarily, but in the long run make it worse.
And there is no "special island." The "little push" doesn't actually "keep you smilin'". Because you come down--and then what? There are also hints that the traumas so easily dismissed are actually quite significant--who wouldn't want to get fucked up if their dad was "found in the swimming pool?" Who hasn't felt frustrated in "a one-horse town?" Those who have had to deal with overbearing parents know that it isn't so easy to cut the cord.
What this song does, more than make fun of the young addict, is try to goad him to admit that getting high is not an escape, not an answer, not a solution. The twenty-one year old in the song isn't ready to hear it; things like masturbation, girlfriends, smoking pot still have some appeal, still hold out the promise that they will somehow make it all bearable. And there isn't a hint that the Captain will eventually make all those other concerns moot--because it will be the Captain that takes precedence over all others.
That's the Faustian bargain of heroin and other highly addictive drugs. The high is very high, and the benefit is real--but eventually, all you are doing is getting high, and your entire existence becomes about the next one. Because life becomes a mental and physical hell of cravings, obsessions, and withdrawals if it isn't. You can't tell that to someone "escaping" at a young age; there is a vague awareness of addiction and its costs, but it is something that always happens to other people. And now, with the huge rise in deaths from overdoses, a similar mindset has taken hold. Yes, heroin kills--but it won't kill me..
Until it does. And your "little holiday" becomes a permanent checking out.