Building a Better Drug Addict

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. In my last post, I discussed alcohol abuse. Today I’ll tackle drug abuse and how that can affect your antagonist.

I know I said this last time, but it’s worth repeating: Mactire says, “Add substance abuse to an existing personality disorder, psychosis or neurosis and you have the makings of a walking time bomb… It is a mistake to blame drugs and alcohol alone. The drugs only helped them commit their crimes with greater brutality. They would have committed the same crimes whether high or sober.” 

He continues with this: “Complain of pain, and many doctors will medicate you instead of trying to find and treat the cause of the pain.” This gave rise to rampant prescription drug addictions in modern society. I’m talking about normal people, folks with jobs, who find themselves addicted to Valium, Xanax, Oxi, amphetamines, etc. Now take this ordinary character with his addiction and add a disorder, like Narcissist Personality Disorder, and you have a character who must have his meds no matter what the cost. It’s a beautiful beginning for a bad guy.

The more common variety of criminal drug user is the nonprescription abuse. Cocaine is highly addictive, and “prolonged abuse causes nervousness, delirium, impotence, malnutrition, anemia, extreme paranoia and depression… there are numerous physical dangers, such as liver damage, heart damage, stroke, seizures and death.” Cocaine users usually become thieves to support their habit, and once the drug is in their system, they are capable of all manner of violent crimes. 

Opium, morphine, and heroine are also highly addictive, and the crime sprees that follow their use are actually caused by the withdrawal symptoms or the fear of those symptoms. “The withdrawal symptoms include nausea, vomiting, tremors, cramps, convulsions, sweating, diarrhea, shortness of breath, and sometimes heart problems that can be fatal.” Addicts will do anything to avoid it, including robbery, burglary, and murder. 

“LSD and PCP are two of the most dangerous behavior-altering drugs,” Mactire says. LSD is a quick-acting hallucinogen that “can cause the brain to distort time and other sensory perception. LSD will unlock the user’s deeply repressed memories, fears and anxieties; cause a severe lack of coordination; and cause severe nausea, vomiting, convulsions, panic attacks and psychotic episodes.” PCP is a psychoactive drug that affects the entire brain, “acting as a depressant, a stimulant, an anesthetic and a a hallucinogen all at the same time. The effects are extremely dangerous and unpredictable, causing slurred speech, convulsions, coma, panic attacks, psychotic reactions, flashbacks, and heart and lung failure.” 

A new variation of LSD, called Ketamine, is now being used to commit crimes. Prostitutes use it to knock out victims to rob them, and rapists use it to subdue women without using force. “Not only is the victim rendered unconscious and vulnerable to attack, the drug also impairs the victim’s memory, and he or she usually comes to consciousness unaware of having been victimized.”

Use these descriptions to create a believable criminal drug addict for your novel. If you need a criminal who’s going to be violent to get his next fix, make him a heroine addict. If you need someone who can blend with society, make him a prescription drug addict. There are so many drugs, prescription and illegal, that Mactire couldn’t possibly cover them all. You’ll definitely need to do more research than the small amount offered here, but this can get you started in the right direction if, like me, you have no clue what these drugs do or why they’re attractive to so many people–which just happens to be the topic for my next post.


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