How to Build a Better Alcoholic

I’m in Chapter Twelve (Drug Abuse) of Sean Mactire’s book  Malicious Intent: A Writer’s Guide to How Murderers, Robbers, Rapists, and Other Criminal Think. Substance abuse is the largest cause of crime and the most predominant influence on criminal behavior, so it’s worth studying when you’re creating antagonists for your novels.

Mactire says, “Add substance abuse to an existing personality disorder, psychosis or neurosis and you have the makings of a walking time bomb.” Walking time bombs, in my experience, are always unpredictable, and therefore exciting. That’s good, for a novel. Let’s dig deeper. “It is a mistake to blame drugs and alcohol alone,” Mactire continues. “The drugs only helped them commit their crimes with greater brutality. They would have committed the same crimes whether high or sober.” 

He offers a history of drug use and abuse in America, including alcohol abuse statistics that are staggering. But history and statistics alone won’t help create a believable antagonist, so I’m leaving all that out. There is one tidbit from this section that does seem important: “Alcohol is not a stimulant. It is a depressant that first reduces inhibitions of the higher brain functions… blood alcohol level and behavior are related as follows:”

  • From .03 to .05 percent, inhibitions are broken down
  • At .10 percent, behavior can become reckless. However, people with low tolerance for alcohol can experience the same behavior changes at lower levels
  • At .20 percent, physical coordination and function becomes severely impaired and behavior become uncontrollable
  • At .25 percent, a person is “falling down drunk”

Also keep in mind that women have a lower tolerance for alcohol than men, and smaller people usually have a lower tolerance than bulkier people. Severe alcohol abuse will cause damage to the brain, central nervous system, liver, and stomach. It’s also common for “alcohol to cause or aggravate personality disorders, which explains why women commit more crimes under the influence of alcohol. Women are also more prone to sleep disorders and volatile tempers and mood swings.” Keep these things in mind when creating your character.

To create a believable criminal alcoholic for your novel, choose a personality type, add a personality disorder, then mix in the alcohol with the appropriate behaviors, body damage, and unpredictable tempers/mood swings. Adding the personality type keeps the character from seeming cardboard. Adding the personality disorder and the effects of alcohol adds believability. Remember that alcohol affects people differently. Some people get giggly/happy when they’re hammered. Others get depressed or despondent. Some react with violence. Any of those would work for your criminal alcoholic, but choosing something unpredictable might liven up your story.

Did I miss anything? In my next post, I’ll cover Mactire’s discussions on drug use.

-Sonja
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