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Phlebotinum Dependence

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Not all of our heroes have Perfect Health. A few don't even have normal health. And a few might need regular or continuous doses of some specific Applied Phlebotinum to live. No, he isn't simply Brought Down to Normal until he can recharge. He will die, often slowly and painfully, without it.

In theory, anyway. Realistically, we'll probably get to see a few Red Shirts with a similar handicap kick the bucket in order to emphasize just how agonizingly awful it would be to skip a dose. Fortunately, our protagonists have Heroic Willpower, so expect them to keep being awesome right to the end (with much panting, grimacing, and comments of "You Can Barely Stand" to let us know how much pain they're in).

See also Man in the Machine, Phlebotinum Muncher, Bottled Heroic Resolve, Toxic Phlebotinum, Food Chains, and Withholding the Cure. Compare Junkie Prophet and Terminally Dependent Society, for when an entire community is dependent on a particular thing. May overlap with the Poison and Cure Gambit.


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    Comic Books 
  • Batman: In some depictions, Clayface requires treatments to keep his body from dissolving. Regardless of the situation, he's always looking for something to give him better control of his form.
  • In Daniel Clowes' Captain America parody The Battlin' American, the Super Serum is extremely addictive, causing heroin-like withdrawal symptoms.
  • The Boys: Mother's Milk has to regularly feed on his V-compound-mutated mother's breast milk, due to her getting contaminated with it while pregnant with him. It's not even a case of needing it to maintain his superhuman abilities, he needs it to survive.
  • In Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy, the Jackal resurrects scores of Spider-Man's friends (and enemies) in new cloned bodies. He tells each one that he has put in a "genetic failsafe" that will cause their bodies to break down unless they take a special pill every day, which he uses to keep the clones under his control. After resurrecting Doctor Octopus, the Jackal offers him the pill and the same speech of "this is to make sure you fall in line". Otto simply smirks that the others may buy that, but he's already figured out that the "failsafe" isn't deliberate; the Jackal doesn't know how to fix the Clone Degeneration and uses the pill excuse to make the others think that he has more control than he does. The Jackal is forced to admit that he's right.
  • Green Lantern:
    • Sodam Yat must now permanently wear a power ring, despite being the bearer of the Ion, to keep him from dying of lead poisoning he received at the hands of Superboy-Prime.
    • Likewise, bearers of the red power rings will die if their rings are removed, because the red light replaces their blood with its energy. Only a Blue Lantern can purge it from their bodies.
  • Iron Man: For much of his history, Tony has needed to wear his armor's chest plate to keep his heart beating. In the early days, he had to recharge it regularly to prevent a heart attack. Over the years, various procedures have cured the necessity only to have some new condition once again force dependence on his armor.
  • Justice League of America: Ultraman, Superman's Evil Counterpart from the anti-matter universe, requires periodic exposure to Anti-Kryptonite to maintain his powers. It's unclear whether it simply keeps him powered or keeps him alive. He seems to be in bad shape without it, but he's also fighting Martian Manhunter at the time.
  • Superman:
    • Uranium capsules will sustain Metallo's robot body for a short time, but kryptonite will sustain it indefinitely. Carrying around Superman's weakness in his chest is just icing on the cake.
    • Parasite is on a strict diet of the life force of living creatures. Superman is a giant buffet for him.

    Fan Works 
  • Daily Equestria Life with Monster Girl: After his transformation into the monster we see on the show, Tirek's body is sustained entirely by magic and must constantly burn thaums to function. And since he still has no way to generate thaums of his own, he must keep draining those around him to survive. This turns out to be how he was defeated the first time: The Princesses simply evacuated everything intelligent enough to have magic from his path, and waited until he collapsed from thaumic starvation.
  • The Dragon King's Temple: The Asyuntian Renegades have been altered to incorporate naquadah into their basic biology. This not only fuels their Elemental Powers but also makes them stronger and tougher than humans. Unfortunately, it also means that if they are deprived of naquadah, they will sicken and die, much as humans will if deprived of any of the metals our biology uses. Normally this isn't much of a problem, since not only is Asyunti's ecosystem impregnated with naquadah, but the Renegades can biosynthesize it with exposure to their associated element. Unfortunately, our two heroes have accidentally been transported to earth (which has no naquadah in its ecosystem) and have been locked up by well-meaning idiots who don't understand that one of them needs to be under Sun to live.
  • I Woke Up As a Dungeon, Now What?: Life in this setting is dependent on the ambient mana released by dungeons to survive. In an area with insufficient mana, plants cannot grow even if they otherwise have everything they need to thrive, and animals and humans grow weak and sickly even if they have food and water. The Central Kingdom has been left a desolate wasteland due to the neighboring empires killing off all but one of its dungeons (implicitly to keep it weak and helpless so that it can serve as a buffer between them).
  • In Pastoral Vignette, Vignette Valencia turns out to be biologically dependent on internet access. When she gets punched into another dimension where the internet doesn't exist, she goes into shock and nearly dies before the natives figure out how to stabilize her.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Iron Man Films: Tony Stark needs to keep his electromagnet on so that shrapnel in his chest won't migrate to his heart. Said electromagnet is powered by palladium. JARVIS notes the irony of the situation: "Unfortunately, the device that's keeping you alive is also killing you." In Iron Man 2, he creates a new element to replace the palladium, and in Iron Man 3, the pieces of shrapnel are finally removed so that he won't need it anymore.

  • Dreamblood Duology: The Gatherers of Hananja gain powerful Dream Walking magic but can no longer produce dreamblood, a Mana-like substance that's normally generated by the Anatomy of the Soul. Without regular infusions, their souls start to degrade, which can ultimately cause an irreversible transformation into a Reaper.
  • Dune:
    • Nearly all humans have been consuming spice for over 10,000 years and have become addicted to it in more ways than one. The Fremen are the most addicted, as spice is present in the very air on Arrakis, which is shown by their "blue-within-blue" eyes.
    • Society itself has become dependent on spice. Even people who don't directly consume it depend on it because spice-imbibing Guild Navigators are the only reliable means of navigating Faster-Than-Light Travel. The Guild Navigators themselves are the ultimate expression of this trope in the setting — while most humans can become dependent on it to the point where withdrawal can be fatal, Navigators are so saturated and mutated by the spice that they require it in gaseous form constantly to even breathe.
    • House Harkonnen also makes a point of poisoning all of the captured Mentat Thufir Hawat's food, then giving him the antidote later to keep him from betraying them.
  • In The Elric Saga, the hero is an otherwise sickly and weak albino who needs exotic drugs or the dread sword Stormbringer to live. While he realises possession of the Sword negates his needs for the drug, he is sickened at the price it exacts. In one story, the villain Yyrkoon keeps him prisoner and withholds both the drugs and access to the Sword for the sheer pleasure of watching his nemesis sicken and die.
  • The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park (1990) are engineered not to produce lysine, requiring humans to administer it. Pity nobody told the engineers that no vertebrates known to man do it either, and we all still survive. The book and sequels realize this and show how well it worked — i.e., not at all.
  • The Licanius Trilogy:
    • The Lyth are a race of Energy Beings, creatures of pure Essence created when a malfunctioning superweapon stripped away their physical bodies. However, without the protection of a physical body, their Essence is subject to the Law of Decay and rapidly evaporates. Thus, if they go for more than a handful of minutes outside the overwhelming Essence of Res Kartha, they will fade into nothingness.
    • Davian is a slightly less severe example. Due to being technically dead, he does not generate Essence as living things do and must drain Essence from the surrounding life to keep his body functional. Normally this is not a problem, as the amounts he needs are tiny enough that the drain is effectively harmless, but he is in trouble if he is somewhere where there is nothing alive for him to tap or if he is cut off from the kan he uses to manipulate Essence.
  • In the Plague Year Series, a deadly nanotech has covered the planet and exists everywhere below 10,000ft in elevation. To be able to freely walk below 10,000 ft, someone must have a corresponding "vaccine" nano. Unfortunately, the original nano will never go away, so it and the vaccine nano are now permanent facts of life.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The title character of The Invisible Man needs periodic injections to keep him from going Ax-Crazy from the Quicksilver in his system. This flaw is deliberately introduced by the Big Bad to keep his buyers dependent on him. In the Series Finale, he's given a permanent cure to the insanity problem.
  • In Lexx, Divine Assassin Kai needs protoblood (the blood of an Insect) to maintain his undead existence. It stops being an issue after the first season when the crew manages to get a good supply of protoblood.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Played with in the episode "Symbiosis". The Ornarans contracted a plague two hundred years earlier, and believe they need continued "treatments" provided by the Brekkians to stay alive. Upon witnessing two Ornarans receiving a "treatment", Dr. Crusher instantly realizes that the "treatment" is actually a narcotic; the plague is long gone, but the Ornarans find withdrawal so traumatic that they're sure that they're still sick, not to mention that the drugs are making them so stupid that they can no longer effectively perform basic maintenance on their ships, let along think clearly about the plague. The Brekkians are fully aware of this, but no longer need to work as long as they can trade the "treatments" for Ornaran goods. While the Prime Directive forbids Picard from revealing the truth to the wronged race, he finds a way to correct the situation by refusing repairs to their few remaining ships. Without the ships, they will have no way to get the "treatments" and will eventually realize they're not actually sick. Of course, the Brekkians are going to have an economic holocaust, but after two centuries of enslaving the other world with needles to the point that they're no longer coherent enough to repair their own ships, you might call it Laser-Guided Karma.
    • The Jem'Hadar of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine are addicted to the substance Ketracel White, to keep them loyal to the Founders. While most Jem'Hadar are innately loyal to the Founders anyway (on account of being programmed to consider them gods), the Founders included a failsafe. It provides all the sustenance they need to survive, removing the need to eat or drink, but they also can't take nourishment from any other source. Depriving a Jem'Hadar of the White causes them to go violently insane and then drop dead. There are a few very rare mutants who don't need the White, but in general even they don't know it... so rare, in fact, that only one (Goran'Agar), was ever found, and then quickly forgotten about. Two, if you count Taran'atar from the Expanded Universe, specifically chosen for his experience and immunity to the White by Odo to be the Dominion representative on Deep Space Nine.
  • Stargate SG-1 has many examples:
    • A Goa'uld symbiote provides a Jaffa with great health and stamina, as well as regenerative powers, but at puberty the Jaffa become incapable of living without these symbiotes for more than a few hours; it acts as their immune system.
    • Tretonin, a chemical used to remedy the Jaffa's dependence on the Goa'uld for survival. (And made from ground-up symbiotes, at least until they figured out how to make a synthetic version.) Tretonin can also be used by regular humans (that's what the Pangarans originally developed it for) but causes the same side effects of completely replacing the natural immune system and thus making anyone who takes it unable to live without it. For the Jaffa who already lack a natural immune system, this is of course a non-issue.
    • The Ilempiri were incapable of being used as hosts by the Goa'uld, so they were fed a highly addictive drug that only the Goa'uld could manufacture, until the entire species was addicted.
  • Paul Turner from Strange World is pressured to work as a double agent in exchange for a serum that will keep his aplastic anemia in remission. Subverted when it turns out that it wasn't the serum that was responsible.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Ravenloft campaign setting, Ivan Dilisnya uses poison to keep his henchmen loyal, dosing them with a toxin called Borrowed Time. Once exposed, they'll die if he doesn't provide regular doses of this substance, which only he knows how to concoct.
  • Rifts has the odd example of Juicers. The chemicals that give them their superhuman qualities will also kill them in a maximum of seven years (and kill them so badly that even a god can't bring them back from the dead — their bodies are completely burned out). But going off the chemicals is a horrible ordeal, so much so that most Juicers would rather die when their time's up than even consider stopping. The chems will kill them, but they can't live without them.
  • Warhammer: The elven High Mage Teclis is the single most wise and powerful magic user in the world, but his body is so weak he needs to be constantly fed healing potions to keep his heart beating.

    Video Games 
  • In BioShock, people taking ADAM will go insane if they do it too often... and if they stop after that, there's a good chance it'll kill them. Worse still, Rapture's various businesses used it for almost everything — from sport to cosmetic surgery — up until people started going crazy and attacking other citizens for their ADAM.
  • In Borderlands 2, we discover that some Sirens can enhance their natural powers with Eridium. However, if they use too much, they eventually become dependent. Thankfully, it seems like they have to take a lot to reach that point — as in, having it pumped into their systems constantly over a period of years.
  • Dead Rising 2 introduces Zombrex, a medication that, if taken daily, will hold off transformation into a zombie. Originally, it's only good for twelve hours, but in the three years between Case Zero and the game proper, it's improved. Several major characters rely on it, including Frank West. In Dead Rising 3, Nick is bitten partway through the game and resigns himself to his fate when he can't find any Zombrex, only to discover that he's The Immune since Carlito inoculated him with the cure to zombification as a failsafe to prevent his Zombie Apocalypse from wiping out humanity entirely.
  • In Citizen Sleeper all Essen-Arp Sleepers have a "failsafe" in case they are stolen or go rogue. Their bodies will decay over time unless they receive "Stabilizer", the equivalent of an immunosuppressant drug that keeps their cybernetics from rejecting each other.
  • In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, all augmented humans (with the exception of the main character) must take Neuropozyne regularly. Otherwise, their body rejects the augments, the results of which are... not fun. Of course, the side effects of Neuropozyne are not a lot of fun either: psychosis, mental degradation, and phobia are just the tip of the iceberg. The entire plot is kicked off by a breakthrough thanks to the protagonist's unique genetic structure due to gene therapy experiments performed on him when he was a baby that could remove the need for Neuropozyne and The Illuminati's attempt to suppress it.
  • Dragon Age: Templars develop Lyrium addiction over time, officially because their Anti-Magic powers run on it. Unofficially, it's pretty clear that the Chantry hooks them up on Lyrium on purpose to keep them on a short leash.
  • In Endless Legend, the Broken Lords were once mortal humans who converted themselves into Energy Beings to survive the long winters of Auriga. However, they became dependent on Dust to sustain themselves, the other alternatives being for them to drain the life force of other living beings.
  • The Fallout games are full of a wide assortment of Fantastic Drugs (and mundane ones), any of which can potentially become addictive after only a couple of uses, with the withdrawal symptoms causing stat debuffs whenever you aren't on the drug in question. Luckily, it's pretty straightforward for any doctor to rid you of your addictions (and in Fallout: New Vegas, there's a consumable item that does it for you).
  • A plot point in Resident Evil 5. Albert Wesker gained potent physical abilities after being impaled by a Tyrant in the first game thanks to his earlier exposure to the Progenitor Virus in his youth and another cocktail of viruses he ingested moments before his "death". He requires regular and precise doses of the viral cocktail to keep his mind and body stable. The heroes overpower him in the penultimate boss battle by giving him an overdose, triggering a psychological and physical breakdown.
  • In RimWorld, a colonist who has been shot in the head will be stuck in an endless coma if they survive. There is a way to wake them up, but it involves dosing them with a rare, uncraftable drug that will increase their blood flow. The caveat is that, once they've taken the drug once, they require regular doses or they will suffer the invariably fatal withdrawal symptoms. The drug's name: Luciferium.
  • The Mordesh of WildStar require regular doses of Vitalus to keep the Contagion at bay. Without it, their bodies rot away and their minds deteriorate, turning them into raving, cannibalistic monsters.
  • The Blood Elves of World of Warcraft are completely dependent on magic since the Sunwell was corrupted by the Scourge.

    Western Animation 
  • Cybersix: The eponymous character was designed so that she requires "Sustenance" in order to live. With the only source of Sustenance being the man who created her, she is forced to extract it from the creatures that he sends to destroy her.
  • The Owl House: In order to survive for centuries beyond his natural lifespan, Emperor Belos has been regularly consuming the souls of palismen. However, doing this for so long has warped his physical body into a rotted, sludge-like monstrosity barely kept under control by increasingly frequent palisman consumption, something made much more difficult by the present day due to the near-extinction of the Palistrom trees that are used to create palismen.

    Real Life 
  • What would you need with a complex organic molecule, acidic hydroxide and an oxidiser? Why, you must eat sugar, drink water and breathe oxygen to live. All three, in inappropriate concentrations and/or locations, can be deadly. (Excess free water can lyse cells, to say nothing of water shifting to places it shouldn't, as in pulmonary edema; oxygen can cause free radical damage to tissues, and oxygen toxicity is heavily implicated in retinopathy of prematurity; and either too little or too much circulating glucose — known more prosaically as diabetes — can cause metabolic derangements leading to irreversible brain damage, coma and death.)
  • Diabetes type 2 sufferers are sometimes capable of producing insulin in limited amounts, but both they and Type 1 sufferers (whose bodies cannot make insulin at all) require daily doses of insulin to, quite literally, prevent them from falling into a coma and dying.
  • ACE inhibitors are taken by people with heart disease. There are similar drugs in existence for controlling lung, liver, kidney, and pancreatic diseases.
  • Long-term alcohol addicts might find that Going Cold Turkey can kill them through shock. A theoretical possibility of death also exists with benzodiazepines and barbiturates, because withdrawal from them can cause seizures, but alcohol withdrawal is the only withdrawal syndrome known to have actually killed anyone.


Video Example(s):


Ford Cruller

Due to his shatter psyche, Ford Cruller has to stay with the psitanium deposit in Whispering Rocks to keep himself from losing his mind.

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Main / PhlebotinumDependence

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