Character Motivation Thesaurus Entry: Overcoming Addiction

What does your character want? This is an important question to answer because it determines what your protagonist hopes to achieve by the story’s end. If the goal, or outer motivation, is written well, readers will identify fairly quickly what the overall story goal’s going to be and they’ll know what to root for. But how do you know what outer motivation to choose?

If you read enough books, you’ll see the same goals being used for different characters in new scenarios. Through this thesaurus, we’d like to explore these common outer motivations so you can see your options and what those goals might look like on a deeper level.

Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): Overcoming Addiction

Forms This Might Take: Addiction can be tricky to define because it’s similar in some ways to other kinds of compulsion disorders. For the purpose of this entry, behavioral addiction is defined as the overuse of a substance or practice that increases over time, continues despite negative consequences, and is incredibly difficult for the user to stop. While alcohol and illegal or prescription drugs are the most common things abused, others can also be addictive, such as nicotine, food, gaming, gambling, shopping, or sex.

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): esteem and recognition

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Taking a serious look at one’s addiction (tracking usage and financial expenditures, journaling about one’s feelings, examining the negative effects in various areas of one’s life, etc.)
  • Purging one’s home of the substances or items that make using easy or more tempting
  • Setting goals and coming up with a game plan
  • Exploring treatment options
  • Seeking therapy
  • Speaking to loved ones about one’s desire to kick the habit as a means of garnering support
  • Attending twelve-step meetings
  • Cutting ties with negative influencers
  • Seeking out new friends and contacts who are dedicated to sobriety
  • Identifying and avoiding triggers that will make it difficult for one to be successful
  • Reducing stressors in one’s life
  • Engaging in activities or hobbies that will keep one busy
  • Throwing oneself into work
  • Becoming more spiritual; clinging to one’s faith as a means of getting through the process
  • Adopting healthy mental practices, such as focusing on the positive, keeping a gratitude journal, or giving oneself plenty of time to find success
  • Finding others who have been successful and talking to them

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • Experiencing grief over the loss of the activity or substance one has always enjoyed
  • Losing long-term friends or loved ones
  • Strained relationships with family members who doubt one’s ability to change (particularly if one has failed repeatedly in the past)
  • The stigma that occurs when other people become aware of one’s addiction
  • Losing one’s job due to attending an in-house, long-term treatment program
  • Having to give up one’s job or change careers in order to overcome one’s addiction
  • Financial difficulties due to the cost of treatment

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • Stressors and triggers that make success difficult
  • Pressure from other addicts who don’t want one to change
  • Past wounds and negative emotions that become more pronounced once one stops medicating
  • Having no support system; having to go it alone
  • One’s addiction of choice being inadvertently replaced with another one
  • Lacking the necessary financial resources
  • Being surrounded by other addicts and being unable to get away from them
  • Not being able to get the time off work needed for therapy or proper treatment
  • Unrealistic expectations from others or from oneself
  • Not looking realistically at one’s addiction
  • Defeatist thinking patterns
  • Negative events (a death in the family, losing one’s job, being involved in a serious car accident, etc.) that occur when one is trying to stop, making it even more difficult
  • Having to stop treatment early (to care for a loved one, attend a funeral, travel for work, etc.)

Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This GoalEmpathyMultitaskingReading People, Talents that help one focus on something other than the addiction (BakingMusicalitySculpting, etc.)

Possible Fallout For the Protagonist if This Goal Is Not Met:

  • Broken relationships
  • Loved ones following in one’s footsteps and being led astray
  • Long-term health issues
  • Depression and other mental illnesses
  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts
  • Harming oneself or others while under the influence
  • Bankruptcy
  • Losing one’s job due to an inability to perform
  • Abandoning important passions and talents as one’s addiction becomes all-consuming
  • Being ruled by doubt and self-loathing
  • Being unable to succeed in other areas due to one’s lack of confidence in one’s abilities
  • An inability to face and overcome the pain from the past, resulting in one not being able to move forward into wholeness

Click here for a list of our current entries for this thesaurus, along with a master post containing information on the individual fields.

About BECCA PUGLISI

Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Character Motivation Thesaurus Entry: Overcoming Addiction

  1. Joe Long says:

    You only have one entry under “Human Need Driving the Goal” but when I look at “Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved” I see many reasons why a person might get caught up in the first place.

    My leading lady (the protagonist’s love interest with an important character arc of her own) is a 14 year old freshman in high school who through her brother and boyfriend ends up socializing with much older “kids.” I need her to follow a story-long journey to get to the climax, which involves getting introduced to and then falling prey to alcohol and sex. I can check off about half of your “Roadblocks” that I’ve used to get her into trouble as well as keeping her from escaping.

    I’m nearly finished with a multi-chapter story arc that has her depressed after being disrespected by her mother which causes her to progress from social drinks to coming home drunk and getting grounded; the bickering with her boyfriend; and other things that set the precedent for her “medicating” herself with drink. Of course, the triggers will only get worse later on and she’ll still have unrealistic expectations and a lack of a support system.

    • Hi, Joe. What we’ve discovered while studying story structure is that most times, the outer story goal (outer motivation) is a representation of something that’s missing internally. This inner motivation is almost always tied to a basic human need that the character is lacking. One of the reasons why we chose to do a thesaurus was to explore that connection between the outer and inner motivations. Depending on the character and his/her circumstances, there can be more than one need for some motivations. Pursuing education, for example. For one character, the missing need driving this motivation could be safety and security; due to life circumstances, she’s always lived on the edge of poverty and has never been able to do much about it. But she has an opportunity to pursue a degree or skill that will help her get a better job and provide an elevated level of safety for her family. So safety and security is the need driving this goal for her. But for someone else, it could be self-actualization that’s missing. They’ve always wanted to pursue higher education, but for various reasons they’ve never been able to. Doing so now, the character is fulfilling the need that’s been missing to better himself, to learn and grow in knowledge. While each goal could have more than one motivation, only one of those needs is going to be driving each character. Which is why we only include one inner motivation for each outer motivation in this thesaurus.

      The roadblocks for a given goal will be largely the same regardless of which need is driving it, so that’s why we’ve got a lot of different options under that field.

      Best of luck with your story. Sounds like you’re making good headway.

      • Joe Long says:

        Thanks, and I totally appreciate the effort you’ve put into this. I’ve bookmarked it and will be scouring over the site.

        The point I was trying to make is that with my character I’m looking for what drives her into the bad habits to begin with. While the protagonist is on a positive character arc, hers is negative.

        Teens go through lots of drama and many experiment with alcohol and sex. My goal is to realistically depict how my character slides from what might be casual into destructive behavior, where she’s using these to medicate herself.

        I’ve picked a personality type for her where she is happy if she thinks she’s pleasing him. She then becomes self conscious and insecure. If he’s looking at another girl or otherwise not responding as she expects she’ll blame herself first. As time goes on she drinks more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *