Posted by: Jess Riley | September 9, 2008

Roleplaying Disorders: Substance Dependence

Blood elves may be the most obvious example of addiction in World of Warcraft, but they’re far from the only ones. How many hardened warriors do you think are alcoholics? Is there something that the trolls or the tauren or the dwarves are secretly smoking or snorting that they eventually become dependent on? Does your mage need a Black Coffee to get out of bed, or is your priestess a menace without her Tea with Sugar?

I don’t know, but substance dependence (on magic, on alcohol, on Elune-knows-what) is common enough on Azeroth that I thought it would be worthwhile to dedicate a post to how you can roleplay this accurately and reasonably.

First, some background: in the real world, there are eleven classes of substances that one can be dependent on or abuse, as defined by the DSM-IV-TR. These are alcohol, amphetamines, caffiene, cannabis, cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants, nicotine, opioids, PCP and sedatives. On Azeroth, I think we can make a reasonable guess as to what categories substances fall into, more or less, compared to real world substances – alcohol and caffiene, for example, are obviously the same. Bloodthistle, given that it raises damage and healing done for ten minutes, followed by a decrease for a significant period of time after use, is probably a stimulant like an amphetamine. Magic itself, I personally consider to be akin to an opioid – while we do not know what a magic ‘high’ is like, magic withdrawal and dependence manifests similiarly to morphine or heroin dependence. These last two are a bit more uncertain, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll define them this way; if you have other ideas, have at it!

Now, in general, substance dependence is characterised by some mixture of tolerance (needing more and more of the substance to get the same effects), withdrawal (distress or impairment caused by cessation of use), repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop using, a great deal of time spent devoted to the habit and use despite knowing it is a problem, among others. These are things that can be used in roleplaying to enhance the idea of this person as an addict – taking several minutes off from a quest to go back to Eversong Woods to find some more Bloodthistle because your stock is about to go off, or insisting on visiting the Inn in every city you pass through, or insisting that you’re done, no, that’s it, I’m not doing it any more, only to turn around ten minutes later and declare that you need it, and you can’t quit yet.

Specific to each kind of substance, however, are a variety of different symptoms of withdrawal which could potentially be used in roleplay. As this post ended up getting kind of long, here’s a few symptoms for alcohol and caffeine withdrawal and tips on roleplaying them effectively are listed below (others will follow in days to come):

1) Alcohol Withdrawal:

  • High pulse rate and sweating – reference can be made to frequent wiping of the brow or higher than usual amount of visible sweat.
  • Increased hand tremor – are they having trouble holding their weapon still? When you hand them a bladder of water, do they drop it because of their shakes?
  • Insomnia – while it would be difficult to play the actual insomnia, are they more tired during the day? Perhaps they complain of having had difficulty sleeping.
  • Nausea or vomiting – complaints of feeling ill, or having been ill earlier in the day. While yes, you can roleplay the actual vomiting if you like, personally I prefer to simply mention that you had done it off-camera rather than actually emoting it.
  • Transient hallucinations or illusions – this can be a fun one! Don’t overdo this one, especially, but occasional reference to an auditory or visual hallucination could be an interesting point. (I could have sworn there was a third man!)
  • Seizures – once again, I’d not recommend over-playing this, but it could be interesting for a one-off roleplay session.
For reference, these symptoms tend to begin a few hours after the last drink (4 – 12, typically) and will be worst within 48 hours, and most will only last about a week. Some, like the insomnia, will even last as long as 6 months in the case of quitting cold-turkey.
2) Caffiene Withdrawal

  • Anxiety, irritability, inability to concentrate, mild depression – these are immediate symptoms as the caffeine leaves the system – you’ve probably heard it referred to as a ‘crash’. Mild edginess and complaining of needing a cup are the simplest way to play this.
  • Headaches – can last as long as five days after caffeine leaves the system. Can be played simply as being a bit ‘fuzzy’ and complaining of exposure to loud noises and of not feeling well. You may not want to roleplay too much combat in this time!
  • Stomach aches – even as a high caffeine user myself, I didn’t know that caffeine deprivation in addicts could cause stomach aches. However, apparently it can – again lasting about a week, similar play to the headaches.
  • Irritability – being snappish, responding grumpily to other people, and generally just being in a mood for a while. Can be a bit of fun to play if you like that sort of thing!
  • Inability to concentrate – ever been in a raid group and realised you zoned out and didn’t hear a word the Main Tank was telling you over Teamspeak? Now imagine your character feels that way constantly for a few days. Not hard to play – but again, if you overdo it, you risk annoying your fellow players.
I want to do justice to the other drugs, so I will be ending this post here and following up with the others in the near future. Until then, happy roleplaying!


  1. The DSM-IV-TR has failed to include “women” in its list. They are an addictive substance (well some have no substance) which you can over-depend on 😉

  2. Don’t be silly; women are sedatives. Listen to one talk for too long and you want to fall asleep, right?

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