7 Tips to Using Addiction in Fiction

Kind of strange to end the War of Nytefall: Ravenous promo posts with this subject, but here we go.  It was the biggest challenge of the story, but I think I learned a lot when doing it.  Nothing is perfect and that’s okay.  In fact:

  1. People are imperfect.  That is important to remember when it comes to addiction.  The addict is flawed and suffering, which is why they turned to whatever it is that they are hooked on.  Those who help them are flawed and suffering, so they may think more about how they are feeling instead of the person they want to help.  Understanding is not automatic and might never happen to the fullest extent.  We tend to think understanding and acceptance are the same thing too.  This combined with people being flawed means that it will always be messy.
  2. An addict doesn’t do it because they want to destroy themselves.  There are events and feelings that lead to the addiction.  It can be depression, anxiety, peer pressure, or a severe loss.  Might even be an injury and they accidentally get addicted, so they don’t entirely realize their situation.  Many times, fiction authors will present the addict as someone who is consciously out to wreck themselves.  This is rarely the case and is typically done to make sure that character is never seen as a victim.
  3. It will not always be obvious to the other characters that their friend is an addict.  With it being well-known that this type of behavior is frowned up, the addict is more likely to keep their activities hidden.  It gets more difficult as they move along, but people don’t pick up on it right away.  Now, those who are close to them might catch on fairly quickly because they see clear changes.  It could just be knowing that something is off or they might investigate to figure things out.  Either way, the addict doesn’t come out as one within a week of getting hooked in order to make things clear.
  4. You may be tempted to have another character get angry at the addict and lash out at them for being selfish or stupid.  If this fits that character’s personality then it might be the way to go.  In reality, may people attempt this with the idea that such actions will snap the addict out of their addiction.  It’s really for the person to release their own emotions of anger, frustration, horror, shock, and/or betrayal.  It hurts to see someone you know fall into such an abyss and PEOPLE ARE IMPERFECT.  That being said, you really can’t have the addict go ‘you are right and now I’m done’.  Guilt-tripping and shaming rarely, if ever, works in this type of situation.  Not for any long-term sobriety since the addict might only be keeping clean to avoiding getting yelled at.  If the angry person is removed from their life in some way, they could go back.
  5. Humor is a difficult thing to do when it comes to stories about addiction.  You don’t want to make the addict come off as a joke, but people are weird when it comes to dealing with tension.  There are those who try to joke about a situation because they are uncomfortable and use laughter as a shield.  The addict can take offense at this if you go this route, but it’s a big risk.  Readers can mistake what you’re doing as mocking the concept of addiction.
  6. There is no way to write about addiction without touching on the emotions.  You need to make it clear what the characters are feeling.  It can be through words, actions, or inner monologues.  The addict’s reasoning needs to be made clear as well as the intentions and opinions of those who seek to help.  If the reader doesn’t see the depth of the emotions that lead to and/or come from addiction then the topic will come off more as a gimmick.  So, do not be afraid to having crying, shouting, physically lashing out, and as much of the ugly side of the human psyche that you can muster for something like this.
  7. If or when you decide to tackle the rehabilitation part of an addiction story, you can’t make it a quick.  You can’t make it clean.  It is going to be difficult and painful because the addict is trying to get over a mental, physical, and emotional crutch.  They have become dependent on whatever they are using, which means they can easily fail in their first attempt to get clean.  Making it too easy can be perceived incorrectly since it rarely works that way.  In fact, people may think the author wants to rush through the subject and only added it for some attention.  Especially if the addict goes completely back to what they were right away.  There may always be habits that remain after the addiction is gone.

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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4 Responses to 7 Tips to Using Addiction in Fiction

  1. V.M.Sang says:

    In my current wip, Charles, I have an elf who becomes addicted. I’m not quite sure of what he is addicted to, as yet. As it’s a fantasy, I’m toying with the idea that powdered dragon scales might give some feelings of power. Anyway, that’s not the point.
    He is a manipulative fellow and as the story moves on, he begins to try to control his partner (who is the main protagonist).
    Your post has made me realise that I need to fill in this part of the story more fully. Thank you for pointing out everything you did. I’ll be bookmarking this post for future reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. L. Marie says:

    Great tips! Did you see the movie Requiem for a Dream? It is one of the most harrowing portrayals of addiction I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t help thinking of it when I read your post. As you said, “You can’t make it clean.”

    Liked by 1 person

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