A sub-plot of my story, is that the protagonist is struggling with addiction to alcohol due to past events (which happen in the book). I'm worried that all the scenes will come off the same because he is always drunk. How do I show that he is drunk every day (or almost every day) and spiralling down into a full blown addiction, while also not being repetitive in every scene? (Keep in mind he is still functioning, just drunk while doing it).

3 Answers 3


Without knowing more about your character I cannot be specific but the revelation is probably dripped . . . similar to the style of a good "whodunnit", a nuanced 'show' of clues.

  • Why is he always sucking on a breath mint?

  • Have him make simple errors (forgetfulness).

"I'll see you tomorrow," he said, pulling on his coat.

"Tomorrow's Saturday," replied Jane. "The office is closed on Saturday."

Or . . .

"Can you cancel my meeting with Tom?"

"You asked me that this morning. I did straight away. You were standing here when I made the call."

  • Have him refuse to attend social events where he knows there's alcohol.
  • Have somebody ask him why he no longer drives his car.
  • Show phone calls waking him up during relatively sociable hours, and when the caller says, "Did I wake you?" - Have him lie. He will miss lot of calls when passed-out or in no fit state. He will provide a string of lies; _the phone was on silent, the battery was dead, the phone was in the other room, I left my phone at X.

Together with loss-of-appetite and a general lack of enthusiasm, these are a few pointers. Feel free to use them, or not.


This Character won't Appear Drunk

If a character is self medicating with alcohol, they probably aren't getting wild-college-party-blackout-drunk every night. They are drinking enough to calm themselves - to "take the edge off."

If this character is a ways down the path to alcoholism, he will need to drink a LOT to appear intoxicated. And alcoholics often know that appearing drunk all the time is a warning sign to others - he will attempt to look normal, even while slowly killing himself with drink.

I'd look up the symptoms of alcoholism, and show them about this character. A couple off the cuff examples:

  • He hides his drinking - taking a pull from a flask when no one is looking, or hiding booze in his room
  • He drinks alone - there's no social function to his intake
  • High tolerance - when he drinks in a social setting, other characters note that he has had a lot, and he demonstrates that it has barely affected him
  • Needs a drink to get to sleep
  • Needs a drink to feel normal

So the technique here is to show him going about his life, and having these things gently intrude on the story. Maybe he has to stop at a liquor store on the way home because he's out of booze. When it's closed, he's distressed. He needs his nightcap to get to sleep.

Slowly let these events become more and more intrusive, and eventually it is obvious - both to the other characters and to your reader - that this guy is an alcoholic.


I'll Get The Bus Today

There may well be other changes in behaviour as well...

So, if your character is drinking a lot at night, they might well decide to catch the bus the next day because they know they are still intoxicated, and therefore can't drive.

Calling in sick, or working from home.

Self conscious about body odor because alcohol does make you smell more - so sneaking off to the bathroom to pop more deodorant on.

Someone mentioned eating less, but I don't know, I've seen examples were early stage drinking problems, there is more eating and weight gain.

Occasionally, having a pick me up in the morning.

Perhaps also, a moment where the drinker decides 'that's it, I'm stopping' but within a week is drinking again.

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