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Descent into Addiction

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"I said my/Ever loosening grip/On the commonest courtesy slipped
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 and sometimes dying of an overdose, 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.

See also The Alcoholic, The Gambling Addict, Extreme Libido, Functional Addict, Addled Addict, and The Teetotaler for related character types. Compare Slowly Slipping Into Evil and This Is Your Brain on Evil when evil deeds are treated like an addiction. If this occurs over an episode, this tends to play out like an Anti-Alcohol Aesop.


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    Asian Animation 
  • Happy Heroes: In Season 7 episode 39, Lele accidentally consumes chocolate, which is a G-Rated Drug to his species of dog alien, and becomes addicted to it to the point that he's willing to purchase it illegally after the candy is prohibited on Planet Xing. Eventually, he is sent to a chocolate rehabilitation center along with Big M. and Little M., who sold him chocolate.

    Comic Books 
  • Brat Pack:
    • Kid Vicious goes from a nice rich boy to a steroid-crunching bully.
    • Wild Boy 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.
  • Turmiolan Tommi (Tommy of Destitution), a Finnish anti-alcohol propaganda book, which described Tommi's descent from a responsible father into a prisoner because of alcohol. This book has been used as a case study for a Type 2 alcoholic (violent binge-drinker).

    Fan Works 
  • The Choices That Make Us: After losing her immediate family and falling out with most of the few peers who can tolerate her (pureblood supremacists whose support for Voldemort makes her furious after what happened to Regulus), Walburga Black spends the last years of her life constantly using the kinds of drugs she once disapproved of her brother Alphard selling. She is at her nastiest during the rare moments when she is sober, and substance abuse hastens her death by a number of years.
  • 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.
  • Danganronpa: In Harmony's Wake: There are several hints that Pinkie Pie is on drugs throughout the story. It is eventually confirmed during the third investigation that she turned to them to function after the first trial, due to witnessing such a horrifying execution. It got worse for her after the second trial, and then reaches its climax when Pinkie apparently causes the death of Fluttershy, blaming herself for it even though she was actually tricked.
  • 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. In the latter fic, Micchy's binge drinking began affecting his health. In the end of both fics, he begins recovering with Takatora's help.
  • Act 2 and 3 of the fanfic Laying Waste To Halloween focuses a lot on Annabeth's Title Drop descent into addiction. It starts when Annabeth meets Luke after her father's death and mother's subsequent dissociation and neglect. Eventually Annabeth is high on drugs almost all of the time and has cut all of her former friends out of her life.
  • 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.

    Film — Live Action 
  • 24-Hour Party People: while Shaun Ryder and the rest of Happy Mondays are no strangers to drugs — considering one of the band members, Bez, was actually their drug dealer before joining — but things take a darker turn as Shaun is introduced to Heroin, which then starts affecting their ability to work. They are then sent to Barbados to record their next album and to be away from heroin, but unfortunately discover crack cocaine instead. After returning to England, Shaun holds the album masters hostage for drug money.
  • Amy (2015) 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.
  • The Basketball Diaries (and its source book) depicts Jim Carroll's descent into heroin and cocaine addiction.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Guyana: Crime of the Century: Halfway during the movie, Johnson complains to his local doctor that the meds intended to suppress his internal pains aren't working, and in fact the pains have grown stronger due to what he suspects to be pancreatic cancer. As of the last third of the movie (following O'Brien's arrival to Johnsontown), he continues consuming them regardless even when drinking something (like coffee).
  • Judy (2019): Judy's overreliance on drugs is pushed on her by Hollywood producers to keep the former child star happy and her weight low.
  • 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.
  • The stressful nature of Molly's lifestyle turns her to a cocktail of drugs and substances in Molly's Game.
  • 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, which has the implication that its four protagonists were addicted to their own unrealistic dreams for the future long before they became addicted to drugs:
    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.
  • Skid in Swing High, Swing Low; once a promising trumpet player, to a bum on the street looking for his next drink.
  • 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.
  • The primary plotline in the Wakefield story in Traffic (2000) 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, 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.

  • 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.
  • In the Heralds of Valdemar short story "Trust Your Instincts", found in the anthology Pathways, Fayne handles the king-choosing Sword that Sings for the first time and is stuck by the warm, soothing, pleasurable influence of its magic. Over the course of the next year he often thinks about it, getting a "shudder of comfort" from the memory, until the desire to be close to it grows into an obsession and a need that has him unable to sleep or think about anything else. Fayne handles it covertly at night, but the sword's influence changes to one of cold terror. Struggling to perform his day to day duties and even unable to fully track what people are saying, Fayne becomes convinced that the sword wants him to steal it and take it to safety. So he does, making no preparations before becoming a fugitive and seeking to cross the border into Valdemar. His fixation on the sword and its lack of care for human needs alienates the one friend who'd accompanied him and causes him to abandon Fayne, who's come to trust only in the Sword That Sings. Ultimately Fayne dies in a mountain pass, and the sword is found on his corpse many years later by Tarma and Kethry. The sword has a plan and deliberately set out to be taken into the wilderness by a bearer who would die and strand it out of the way, but it certainly has parallels to an addiction narrative.
  • A Scanner Darkly 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.
  • Sato from Welcome to the NHK has addictive tendencies as a result of a lack of real-life obligations due to his hikikomori lifestyle. Once, he 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. Earlier on in the story, his friend lends him porn as "reference material" for the hentai video game they were working on together. He gets so hooked on Internet porn that he downloads 120 gigabytes worth of photos and bricks his computer deleting system files by mistake in an attempt to make more room.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • Arrow had this as Laurel's story arc for much of Season 2. She started drinking and using prescription medication 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.
  • 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.
  • An episode of The Big Bang Theory sees Penny, curious as to what the guys find so absorbing in computer games, dabbling in an online fantasy adventure and progressively getting so hooked that she gives up on things like eating, sleeping and personal grooming. The thing that makes her go cold turkey is when she realises she is seriously considering virtual sex between her avatar and one controlled by Howard Wolowitz.
  • Played for Laughs in the Black Mirror episode "Black Museum". One vignette tells of a doctor and a hairnet device. The device allows the doctor to feel other patient's pain upon touching them. After a patient dies under his examination, he becomes obsessed with the sensation he experienced. He begins wearing it during sex, and as a result receives sexual pleasure when using the device at work. Overtime, he craves deeper and more exhilarating sensations. He resorts to self-harm, and it eventually goes so far that he murders someone.
  • An early story arc in Breaking Bad features 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Graceland:
    • 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.
  • Homicide: Life on the Street: After his wife leaves him, Felton descends into alcoholism and becomes increasingly unreliable as it impacts his performance at work, even losing evidence while on a bender.
  • M*A*S*H:
    • 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 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.
  • Mo (2022): Chien gives Mo some lean (a mixture of prescription codeine-containing cough syrup and soda) to help with the pain while working on his bullet wound. Mo then becomes addicted to the stuff, despite being aware of its dangers.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Non-linear flashbacks in Ozark reveal Roy's mother's descent into addiction. After being hospitalised, she is reluctant to take painkillers because she knows how addictive they are. Roy sees her suffering and recommends she takes the painkillers. Each flashback shows a different stage of her addiction. In one scene, she, Roy and his boyfriend go to a diner. But being a nurse, Roy's boyfriend notices she is high. In another flashback, Roy drives her to his dubious uncle's house. Rather than driving away, he storms into the house and finds her injecting herself with heroin.
  • 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.
  • Sorjonen: In series 3, there are indications that Niko is becoming increasingly reliant on painkillers after being shot.
  • Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye: In "The Gambler", Bobby, a former gambling addict, goes undercover as a lousy gambler to catch a master criminal. Bobby starts out calm and cool, though confident that he could wipe the floor with everyone at the table if he wanted. He gradually gets to the state that he maxes out three credit cards, has to borrow money from the FBI, and lies to Darcy and Jack about where he's been. By the end, he admits he still has a problem. He wins enough money to pay back the bureau and begins going to gamblers' anonymous. Jack also offers him a loan to help him survive while he pays back the credit card debt.
  • 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.
  • After a short stint doing heroin in Italy, Christopher in The Sopranos slowly becomes addicted to it of the next couple of seasons.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): "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.
  • Without a Trace's Martin Fitzgerald becomes addicted to painkillers after being shot.
  • 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.
  • The Wire: At the end of the series, we see the now homeless Duquan learning to inject heroin from the addict selling produce from a horse cart. Jimmy McNulty manages to cut down on his drinking in season 3 but relapses and regresses hard in the fifth season as the stress of the job and the serial killer hoax starts to snowball out of control. There is also an unnamed bit character, a woman who is first seen buying cocaine at Hamsterdam from the backseat of a car, and is seen more strung out and with less earthly posesions in subsequent appearances.

  • "Thrash Unreal" by Against Me! tells the story of a woman whose party habit slowly morph into full blown drug addiction.
    You're getting mixed up with the wrong guys
    You're getting messed up on the wrong drugs
    Sometimes the party takes you places
    That you didn't really plan on goin'
    • Laura Jane Grace says the song is slightly autobiographical, however she had managed to unknowingly offend an old friend who thought the song was about her, a misconception Laura didn't get to set straight before the friend's death. The story of that relationship formed the basis of "Because of the Shame"
  • "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 Eagles' "Life In The Fast Lane", which is about a couple's descent into drug addiction, which ends with the line, "They didn't care, they were just dying to get off."
  • The New Pornographers' song "The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism," which provides the page quote.

    Video Games 
  • 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 properly starts with her as a young social drinker. Shark, her nephew, also descends from sobriety to violence and alcoholism before his death.
  • Nina's Magic Chest has Nina realizing how powerful the chest is and wanting to throw it away. But she kept on going back and slowing getting addicted to the chest.

    Western Animation 
  • 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 BraveStarr episode "The Price", in which a teenage boy named Jay becomes hooked on "spin" and gets progressively more focused on getting more.
  • The Looney Tunes Show has two episodes like this.
    • "Off Duty Cop" involves Bugs getting addicted to a drink called Spargle because he's not allowed to drink coffee and was treating it as a substitute. It eventually turns out that the reason Bugs got so hooked on the drink is because Spargle is an illegal drug with highly addictive chemicals in it.
    • "Bobcats on Three!" has a plot involving Bugs getting hooked on Porky's unhealthy catering food to the point where he becomes morbidly obese.
  • In the Seven Little Monsters episode "You Are What You Eat", Four attempts to train Five for a pie-eating contest by having him eat nothing but pie, eventually resulting in Five becoming severley addicted to pie and going crazy when Four informs him that he's eaten all the pies Mama put in the freezer.
  • 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.
  • Several Smurfs in The Smurfs (1981) episode "Lure Of The Orb" eventually show signs that Allura's magic orb was taking its toll on them, including them stealing, lying, and becoming too weak to fight the temptation for more.
  • After enduring a decade-long Trauma Conga Line, Young Justice's once-Cheerful Child Beast Boy is finally pushed over the edge following Conner's death. Much of the first half of Phantoms follows him becoming addicted to sleeping pills to cope with the loss, and it destroying his personal and professional life.