From my hands/Where I really need her/When I need change/For the parking meters
I said my my my/My slow descent/Into alcoholism it went"
A character arc which depicts a particular character's decline into some form of self-destructive addiction. They may become addicted to a substance (alcohol, heroin, opioids etc.) or to a pattern of behaviour (gambling, porn and sex addiction etc.). In Speculative Fiction works, this can include a character becoming addicted to a Fantastic Drug or fantastic pattern of behaviour (such as a sorceror becoming addicted to the intoxicating effects of using magic, for example).
The key aspect of this trope is that at the beginning of the Story Arc, the character is not an addict, and is either only a casual user of the substance/activity in question or abstains entirely. It's not an example if the character is an addict from the outset of the work.
Addiction (needing more and more to get the same result) and dependence (needing to take the same amount each time) are often confused or conflated in these portrayals. These works usually don't bother to distinguish between physical (the body expects it) and psychological (you think you need it, more like a Magic Feather) dependence, either.
Cynical, downbeat works will often end with the character having succumbed to their addiction, whereas more optimistic works will depict the character recovering and overcoming their addiction (or at least beginning to).
Compare and contrast Off the Wagon, in which a recovered addict relapses (it's possible for a work to be an example of both tropes, if the work opens after the character has made their initial attempt at recovery). In TV series and cartoons aimed at children, this may often be the subject of a Very Special Episode (possibly with a Frothy Mugs of Water-style substitute for a real drug). Often involves a Compressed Vice. Typically an example of Drugs Are Bad. May lead to the character's friends and family Staging an Intervention. Sometimes, particularly in works made during The '80s, it starts with The Aggressive Drug Dealer.
Compare This Is Your Brain on Evil when evil deeds are treated like an addiction.
- Welcome to the N.H.K.: Sato receives a copy of an MMORPG to play. Once he starts playing, he becomes hooked, refusing to leave the house, bathe, or even eat for several days.
- Brat Pack:
- Kid Vicious goes from a nice rich boy to a steroid-crunching bully.
- Wilboy becomes so addicted to drugs that he can barely speak a full sentence.
- Luna goes from a sweet, church-going virgin to a jaded nymphomaniac.
- Green Arrow. Snowbirds Don't Fly is a two-episode arc in issues #85 and #86 that showed how Green Arrow's ward Roy "Speedy" Harper had become a heroin addict and the consequences of his actions.
- Iron Man: The Demon in a Bottle story arc from 1979 deals with Tony Stark's slow descent into alcoholism. Although he managed to seemingly beat the addiction by the end of the arc, it returned later to further ruin his life, and has been a major defining element for the character ever since.
- The Kamen Rider Gaim fanfics I shouldn't be alive, Unless it was for a reason and Gone Cold Turkey portrays Mitsuzane's slow descent into heavy drinking, albeit underage. The factor of Micchy drinking himself to death with (as much guilt) is he can cope with the deaths of Kouta and Mai, to the point that his health deteriorates even further. It gets even Up to Eleven with the latter fic where Micchy's binge drinking began affecting his health. In the end of both fics, he begins recovering with Takatora's help.
- Vigilante Tendency: After meeting his heir, Tsuna, and seeing the...quirks of him and his friends/future Guardians, Timoteo (Vongola Nono) starts adding whiskey to his tea and begins a steady descent into alcoholism. His Cloud Guardian Visconti quickly joins him once he meets his student/successor Kyouya Hibari.
- Control is an Azumanga Daioh fic about Yukari's descent into drug addiction. It starts when she begins using drugs while at a club.
- Coping revolves around Twilight finding out about Sunset Shimmer's worsening addiction to over-the-counter meds.
- The primary plotline in the Wakefield story in Traffic centres on Bob Wakefield's daughter Caroline, who develops an addiction to heroin after being introduced to it by her boyfriend. Her parents put her in rehab, but she escapes and resorts to theft and prostitution to fund her habit. At the end of the film, she's back in rehab and seems more committed to recovering.
- Several minor characters in Trainspotting and its source novel undergo this, most notably Tommy (as per the page image), who is introduced to heroin by Renton after his girlfriend dumps him, and ultimately contracts HIV. Sick Boy's arc could be considered an inversion, as he's a heroin addict at the beginning of the film but manages to get clean. Zig-zagged with the protagonist Renton, who continually gets clean, relapses and gets clean again.
- Requiem for a Dream chronicles the descent of four characters into drug addiction (three of them to heroin, one to prescribed weight-loss amphetamines). Director Darren Aronofsky stated that he was attempting to explore the parallels between different types of addiction in the film:
Requiem for a Dream is not about heroin or about drugs... The Harry-Tyrone-Marion story is a very traditional heroin story. But putting it side by side with the Sara story, we suddenly say, 'Oh, my God, what is a drug?' The idea that the same inner monologue goes through a person's head when they're trying to quit drugs, as with cigarettes, as when they're trying to not eat food so they can lose 20 pounds, was really fascinating to me. I thought it was an idea that we hadn't seen on film and I wanted to bring it up on the screen.''
- During the course of Scarface, Tony Montana and his girlfriend Elvira Hancock become addicted to cocaine as he rises up the ranks of the dealers/distributors to become the king of Miami's cocaine trade. "Getting high on your own supply" is a big no-no among drug dealers, and is one of several factors that ultimately end up dooming Tony.
- The Basketball Diaries (and its source book) depicts Jim Carroll's descent into heroin and cocaine addiction.
- In Days of Wine and Roses, Kirsten goes from staunch teetotaler to complete alcoholic and is unwilling or unable to attempt recovery, which costs her her husband and child. Joe seems to have some issues from the start of the movie, but does manage to dry out.
- The film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King treats us to a chilling flashback of how a hobbit-like character named Sméagol succumbed to the One Ring's Addictive Magic and slowly degenerated into the nocturnal creeper we all know and love as Gollum.
- Amy tells the tragic Real Life story of Amy Winehouse, whose descent into alcoholism and other drug addictions eventually leads to her death at the age of 27.
- Chronicle is about the slow descent of a supervillain into homicidal insanity. The catch is, it's not the powers that are addictive, but his own abnormal addiction (to cameras) that gets worse as the domestic abuse piles up. As seen in both him and his abusive father, they outright ignore the possibility of a solution to their regular problems because it involves withdrawal from addictions that they both deny, and their decisions are catastrophically idiotic as a result.
- Skid in Swing High, Swing Low; once a promising trumpet player, to a bum on the street looking for his next drink.
- Better Living Through Chemistry is about Doug Varney, local pharmacist, as he descends into addiction to his own product, as well as to Trophy Wife, Elizabeth, with whom he starts an affair.
- The stressful nature of Molly's lifestyle turns her to a cocktail of drugs and substances in Molly's Game.
- To Walk Invisible tells the story of the Brontë sisters and how they achieved success with their novels as, meanwhile, their brother Branwell's life took a downward spiral into alcoholism and other drug abuse.
- In his Confessions, Augustine plays off addiction narratives in an incident where he meets a drunken man and makes the case said man's addiction to drink is more enviable than was young Augustine's growing addiction to fame and honor.
- A Scanner Darkly like the movie adapted from it depicts undercover cop Bob Arctor growing addicted to the scary fictional drug Substance D as part of his cover.
- Dick Diver in Tender Is the Night begins to drink heavily as a coping mechanism due to his wife's mental illness, eventually becoming The Alcoholic.
- This is what Valley of the Dolls is about, with prescription medicines. Neely O'Hara is the one who especially fits the profile. As a fresh-faced kid, she hits the big time, her film studio makes her take Dexamyl to lose weight, they keep her awake so she takes Seconals, then Nembutals, and on and on. She is a true addict, building up a tolerance so that she has to take more pills to get the same result. She's put in a mental hospital to recover, but by the book's end is back on pills, plus Demerol and booze. Jennifer, a stress insomniac, is dependent on Seconals for sleep and Anne is becoming psychologically dependent on them by the end.
- In Venus Prime 4, Sparta starts taking various pharmaceuticals in an attempt to counteract the drugs that erased part of her memories. Instead, she ends up severely addicted to one of the drugs, and by the end of the book, she's caused so much damage to her own brain from drug abuse that she loses her enhanced perception abilities.
- Babylon 5:
- In the second season, Dr. Franklin starts using stims to keep himself going as more and more injured refugees arrive from the Narn-Centauri War. As time goes on, he becomes more reliant on them, even after the war ends, and by the mid-third season, it's clear he's become dependent on them. Once he realizes it, he goes on a "Walkabout" to figure things out.
- Michael Garibaldi is shown to have had a problem with alcohol in the past, but aside from one relapse in the first season, he doesn't touch the stuff, making a point to just drink water, until the fifth season, at which point he starts spending more and more time intoxicated to passed out which causes him to miss a critical call, and possibly a chance to stop a war before it begins.
- A Very Special Episode of Saved by the Bell (which has since become infamous for its copious Narm) was focused on Jessie becoming addicted to caffeine pills.
- In The Mentalist, Cho gets injured on duty, and his doctor gives him pain medication which he takes as needed. Over the course of several episodes, we see him popping pills. Eventually, he realizes he's becoming addicted to them, so he flushes the remainder of the pills down his toilet and never takes them again.
- An early story arc in Breaking Bad featured Jesse (already a habitual user of crystal meth and weed) being introduced to heroin by his girlfriend Jane and slowly becoming addicted. After Jane fatally overdoses, Walt sends Jesse to a rehab facility and he remains clean for most of the rest of the series.
- Call the Midwife uses its status as a Long Runner to do this arc very subtly with Trixie. Initially Trixie seems to drink casually and socially like any other of the nurses (after all, even the nuns go for the occasional tipple). As more focus is placed on her drinking, other characters start lightly joking about how she likes a drink and opens her "home bar" every day. Even then, it takes a while before she realises that she drinks to cope. In Series 4, her engagement falls apart, she starts drinking on the job and then accepts that she is an alcoholic and has a serious problem. She joins Alcoholics Anonymous and is in recovery in subsequent series, until she temporarily falls Off the Wagon in Series 7 and again resolves to stop drinking and takes some time off work to focus on her recovery (this is a case of Real Life Writes the Plot as her actress was on maternity leave, hence the time off work).
- During the fifth season (Frank's last), Margaret's engagement and eventual marriage to Donald Penobscott effective ends her affair with Frank, which drives him over the edge, and as that season progresses, his obsession for her grows and grows to pathological proportions; his attempts to just talk or eat with her usually ends with him breaking down and making a move on her, only for her to push him away and threatening to tell Penobscott.
- In "Dr. Winchester and Mr. Hyde", Major Charles Emerson Winchester starts taking amphetamines to make up for a lack of sleep and quickly becomes addicted to them.
- In the third season, Agent Mike Warren develops a dependency and then full-blown addiction to the pain medication he is prescribed following his attempted murder last season. Eventually, Mike decides to detox and appears to beat his addiction with the help of his roommates.
- The Young Lawyers had an episode, "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs", showing an old girlfriend of Aaron's who has become an incredibly degraded heroin addict. We repeatedly see the contrast between his memories of her as healthy and beautiful and her current deteriorated state. Written by Harlan Ellison, the original script was massacred in rewrites by ABC's requirement that the drug angle be downplayed. You can see his original work in his book The Other Glass Teat.
- Good Girls Revolt has Cindy who is drinking more, and more often, as the show goes on, at first only when she's stressed, but by the end of the first season, she's taking swigs from bottles at other people's places.
- In The Crown (2016), Prime Minister Anthony Eden becomes addicted to the painkillers and amphetamines he was prescribed after a botched surgery left him in constant pain. (The influence of these drugs is now considered to be responsible for his poor handling of the Suez crisis.)
- Arrow had this as Laurel's story arc for much of Season 2. She started drinking using prescription to deal with guilt and depression from the traumatic events of the Season 1 finale and subsequent traumas in Season 2. Done realistically, in that she starts as a Functional Addict, but her problem becomes increasingly unmanageable and she becomes more unpleasant until she finally hits rock bottom. Then she claws her way back out and makes up with her friends and family. Actress Katie Cassidy even won a PRISM award for it.
- The Twilight Zone: "The Fever" has a man become addicted to gambling on a Las Vegas vacation with his wife after imagining that he can hear the slot machine calling him to play. After losing all of his money, he hallucinates (or does he?) that the slot machine is chasing him down and crashes through a window to his death.
- A main character arc for Willow in Season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer has her become addicted to magic, which she explains with "I got addicted, as addicts do" to another character who asks her to do some powerful magic when she is in recovery.
- After a few lucky nights at the local casino, One Life to Live's Max Holden starts going more and more often until he's a full-fledged gambling addict.
- Without a Trace's Martin Fitzgerald becomes addicted to painkillers after being shot.
- General Hospital's Karen Wexler becomes hooked on amphetamines—she's working three jobs, attending college, and struggling with the memory of having been molested by her mother's boyfriend.
- All My Children's Will Cortlandt plies his underage wife Hayley with alcohol to keep her dependent on him and from realizing what a bastard he really is, eventually turning her into an alcoholic. Several years later, Erica Kane becomes addicted to painkillers after falling from a scaffold and injuring her back.
- The Outer Limits (1995): In "Ripper", the former Harley Street surgeon Dr. Jack York became addicted to absinthe and opium after his misdiagnosis resulted in the death of the young daughter of a duke.
- Taken: In "Acid Tests", Jesse Keys became a heroin addict after fighting in The Vietnam War. He began using drugs as a way to distract himself not only from his memories of the war but his frequent abductions by the aliens.
- "Slow Down" by Brand Nubian is a What the Hell, Hero? directed at the speaker's ex-girlfriend. She started off clean (which isn't to say she didn't have other problems), then became addicted to gateway drugs either before or during her relationship with him, and finally to crack cocaine. He broke up with her because the addiction had changed her personality and done a number on the way she looked, and she was doing things like stealing money from him and selling her body to pay for her habit. It seems that part of him was hoping that the breakup would be the kick in the pants she needed to get clean, but he can see that she hasn't changed.
- The New Pornographers' song "The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism," which provides the page quote.
- Randal's Monday: Happens to everyone who has had possession of the ring, including Matt, the business bum, Mel, and Sally. Oddly, Randal seems immune.
- Eight Cicadas starts with a flash-forward to Annette as an alcoholic, though her story proper starts with her as a young social drinker. Shark, her nephew, also descends from sobriety to violence and alcoholism before his death.
- Happens to pretty much the entire citizenry of Retroville in The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. After Jimmy invents a candy so delicious that just a single taste makes whoever eats it obsessed with getting more, he has to escape a town-wide mob (including his friends and parents) that threatens to abduct him and force him to make more. By the end of the episode, he merges the candy with an edible shock-ray to condition them into losing their love for it.
- An infamous example occurs in the Brave Starr episode "The Price", in which a teenage boy named Jay becomes hooked on "spin" and gets progressively more focused on getting more.
- The Simpsons: In "$pringfield", Mr. Burns opens a casino in Springfield and Marge becomes a gambling addict. She acknowledges her problem at the end of the episode.