Writing Addiction in Fiction

This might be simplifying up above, but it does come off that way at times.  As I said on Friday, War of Nytefall: Ravenous has a very serious subplot that deals with addiction.  You might be wondering how I could add that into a fantasy action adventure series about vampires.  Well, it wasn’t easy, but I tackled PTSD in Legends of Windemere to some extent, so why not plunge into a sensitive topic this time?  My third series will be more light-hearted . . . I think.  Anyway, I’m going to talk about how I went about adding this into the story.

Over my lifetime, I’ve interacted with recovered addicts and those who I would later learn were current addicts.  I’ve read it from a science and personal story perspective as well as watching videos.  Being born in the 1980’s, I was nearly bombarded with the concept of addiction and how destructive it could be.  In college, I wandered through articles about the psychology around it as well.  One thing that always struck me is that many addicts reach a point where they want to stop, but can’t do it.  It’s when you need friends and family the most, which is an on-going concept in Nytefall.  Many characters get their strength from those around them, which is another reason I thought that this could be a perfect opportunity to tackle the subject.

Another thing I’ve learned is that everyone reacts to addiction stories differently.  It can depend on what the person is addicted to.  Notice that I haven’t given a specific here, but I’m sure people have thought only of drugs and alcohol.  Anyway, people do have more sympathy for some addictions than others.  Others immediately look down on the addict and consider them a worthless character even if they recover.  There is a lot of judgement when it comes to addiction in real life and it carries over into fiction.  Sadly, these judgments are rarely nice or sympathetic.  When somebody doesn’t pull out of their spiral even with help, we can get frustrated and think that they truly don’t want to.  This may be true in some cases, but others are simply that they can’t.  People ignore the psychology behind this, which can include anxiety, depression, self-destruction, and a sense that one is defined entirely by their addiction.  I considered all of this when I tackled this subject in my book.  Can’t say it goes off perfectly, but I’d like to think I made one where you can get the sense that there is more to it than ‘needing a hit’.

Addiction can be triggered by many things.  The desire to fit in is one that we tend to forget and it can be overshadowed by a sense of rebellion.  Peer pressure can be really destructive for those who are already psychologically struggling to find their place.  Keep in mind that these people could have been turned to healthier paths, but they weren’t for one reason or another.  It could be that they were targeted by someone with dark intentions or the healthier groups already ostracized them.  You never know.  This also shows that anxiety and depression can lead one to addiction as well.  It’s the whole dulling of pain and distracting yourself mentality.  You can’t cope with the powerful emotions, so you try to kill them off.  You can end up destroying the positive emotions along with the negative and leaving only the numbness.  Again, this depend on the addiction.  I’m definitely leaning more towards drugs and alcohol here, but others have a similar effect.

Adding addiction into War of Nytefall was a difficult decision and it came about during a rewrite of an outline.  I realized that the character was in so much pain that they couldn’t shrug it off.  They were drawing into themselves, but then had moments where they were incredibly manic.  I gave them an addiction to see if it explained things and it created this agonizing, raw subplot.  Not only watching the person go through the addiction, but those around them trying to help.  Never forget that you have to factor in how people react to the problem.  That was probably the hardest part.  It’s easy to have a character do the physical act of addiction.  Emotions and psychology of them and their loved ones are harder because you need to open yourself to some uncomfortable truths.  Not everyone can understand the mentality.  Not everyone will support that person.  There can be times where things are made worse.  People can start to recover and fall again.  It’s simply how it seems to work.

So, what do you think about addiction in fiction?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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15 Responses to Writing Addiction in Fiction

  1. For the record: I finished Ravenous a couple of days ago, and – as I mentioned in the review I put on Goodreads for it today – I think you handled addiction very well in Ravenous. I mean, I’m not an expert, but it was certainly believable to me.

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  2. I think addiction is part of life so why not put it in fiction? I’m sure you did a great job with it, Charles.

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  3. I’m with John here. Obviously, it’s something to consider before you undertake such a project, but it sounds like you did.

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  4. L. Marie says:

    My metaphorical hat is off to you for tackling this issue. As others have said, it is a sad part of life and makes sense that it show up in fiction.

    Wasn’t Sherlock Holmes addicted to cocaine?

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  5. I feel like this is a topic, like child abuse or rape, that has to be handled carefully. Sometimes writers seem to just throw those in because they need something dramatic in a story that’s lagging. Then they gloss over the continuing trauma and get on what whatever they think is more important.

    It sounds like you’ve done your research and are approaching this with respect. Like every good writer, you’ve kept your eyes open to things happening around you.

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    • Oddly enough, my research was thinking about the stories I’ve seen where the addiction was treated so poorly. I didn’t want the character to be seen as a villain. I focused a lot on inner turmoil and the ‘pros’/cons in their mind. Even at the end, I wasn’t sure if I got it right. Not an easy balancing act.

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  6. clmuileboom says:

    I do enjoy addiction in fiction because in a way, I find it relatable. Not necessarily speaking of myself – although I do have some vices. No, I had it rough as a child. My mom an alcoholic, and my dad into crack and crystal meth. My mom’s own tribulations didn’t bother me so much, because she still ended up being herself she still went o work and provided and made sure I had both my needs and wants. It was harder with my dad. He never always chose drugs, but when he did I truly lost him. He had a heart attack at 49 – I was 16. I resented him for a long time, and it hurt. I loved him dad early, but I hated who he became. I get it though, in a way. You see, when he was 17 he got in a car accident. Young, and not using his head he was drinking. His best friend was in the passanger seat. He didn’t make it. I never knew this until after he passed, but when my uncle told me I then understood. He was a man filled with guilt, and it ate at him everyday. Not that I condone using hard drugs to escape, but I get it. I wish I knew the truth though. Maybe I could have reassured him, that it was an accident, and that John would be happier if he didn’t suffer. Anyways, addictions can be rough. Especially on those who care for the said addict. I would love to read your book, and see how you write about this “theme” . I will have to add it to my list.

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    • Thanks for sharing your story and experience. Since I write fantasy action adventure, it was tough to cover addiction in a thickly dramatic way. Having the addict be a vampire made it harder. So, I did try to focus a bit more on how it affected those around them and the book’s central problem. They go from a useful ally to a hindrance, so the addiction does put a lot at risk.

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  7. clmuileboom says:

    Ah, it doesn’t seem like your book is yet available in Canada. Maybe I am doing something wrong.

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