One of Infinite Jest’s main themes is addiction, and the novel explores this in an expansive sense. The novel’s use of the term “Substance” for drugs, alcohol, and other addictive entities shows that it has an expansive view of addiction. Many of the characters are addicted to drugs and alcohol, but some are addicted to more surprising or abstract things, such as food, sex, or entertainment. The word Substance symbolizes that all addictions are united in some way, regardless of what the object of attachment actually is. This is shown through the novel’s reflections on addiction, which discuss how people become enslaved to a Substance (rather than any particular drug or group of drugs). The novel suggests that all experiences of addiction have more or less the same structure. In the beginning, a person loves their Substance of choice; it makes them feel exhilarated, fulfilled, or functional. They then develop a dependence on the Substance, and over time the Substance becomes less enjoyable. Following the ideology of Alcoholics Anonymous, the novel suggests that most addicts need to reach “rock bottom” before they are able to entertain the possibility of quitting their Substance. However, there is a paradox here, because at that point the addict’s whole life has become totally consumed by this Substance, to the point that they likely won’t see any point in living without it. Substances are powerful not only because of the psychological and biological effects they have on people, but also because they give people a much-needed sense of meaning and purpose.
Substances Quotes in Infinite Jest
“I'm ten for Pete's sake. I think maybe your appointment calendar's squares got juggled. I'm the potentially gifted ten-year-old tennis and lexical prodigy whose mom's a continental mover and shaker in the prescriptive grammar academic world and whose dad's a towering figure in optical and avant-garde film circles and single-handedly founded the Enfield Tennis Academy but drinks Wild Turkey at like 5:00 a.m. and pitches over sideways during dawn drills, on the courts, some days, and some days presents with delusions about people's mouths moving but nothing coming out. I'm not even up to J yet, in the condensed O.E.D., much less Québec or malevolent Lurias.
A more than averagely devout follower of the North American sufism promulgated in his childhood by Pir Valayat, the medical attaché partakes of neither kif nor distilled spirits, and must unwind without chemical aid… The medical attaché sits and watches and eats and watches, unwinding by visible degrees, until the angles of his body in the chair and his head on his neck indicate that he has passed into sleep, at which point his special electronic recliner can be made automatically to recline to full horizontal, and luxuriant silk-analog bedding emerges flowingly from long slots in the appliance's sides.
Hal likes to get high in secret, but a bigger secret is that he's as attached to the secrecy as he is to getting high.
Recreational drugs are more or less traditional at any U.S. secondary school, maybe because of the unprecedented tensions: post-latency and puberty and angst and impending adulthood, etc. To help manage the intrapsychic storms, etc… But so some E.T.A.s - not just Hal Incandenza by any means - are involved with recreational substances, is the point. Like who isn't, at some life-stage, in the U.S.A. and Interdependent regions, in these troubled times, for the most part.
So what is this? You're ordering me to pray? Because I allegedly have a disease? I dismantle my life and career and enter nine months of low-income treatment for a disease, and I'm prescribed prayer?
That a little-mentioned paradox of Substance addiction is: that once you are sufficiently enslaved by a Substance to need to quit the Substance in order to save your life, the enslaving Substance has become so deeply important to you that you will all but lose your mind when it is taken away from you. Or that sometime after your Substance of choice has just been taken away from you in order to save your life, as you hunker down for required a.m. and p.m. prayers, you will find yourself beginning to pray to be allowed literally to lose your mind, to be able to wrap your mind in an old newspaper or something and leave it in an alley to shift for itself, without you.
Sobriety in Boston is regarded as less a gift than a sort of cosmic loan. You can't pay the loan back, but you can pay it forward, by spreading the message that despite all appearances AA works, spreading this message to the next new guy who's tottered in to a meeting and is sitting in the back row unable to hold his cup of coffee. The only way to hang onto sobriety is to give it away, and even just 24 hours of sobriety is worth doing anything for, a sober day being nothing short of a daily miracle if you've got the Disease…
I couldn't even stand to be in the same room, see him like that. Begging for just even a few seconds - a trailer, a snatch of soundtrack, anything. His eyes wobbling around like some drug-addicted newborn.
After so long not caring, and then now the caring crashes back in and turns so easily into obsessive worry, in sobriety. A few days before the debacle in which Don Gately got hurt, Joelle had begun to worry obsessively about her teeth. Smoking 'base cocaine eats teeth, corrodes teeth, attacks the enamel directly.