Most of the characters in Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting struggle with some form of addiction, often a dependence on heroin. The novel explores drug culture in Scotland in the late 1980s, depicting elements of it with realism and specific details, but it also explores metaphorical addictions and how these are similar to and different from physical addictions. The novel portrays addiction as both a constant state and a cycle. Some of these cycles play out in the short term, like how Sick Boy’s name reflects that he (and the other heroin-using characters) experience extreme withdrawal—a literal sickness—if they go too long without using heroin. Other cycles play out over a longer time frame, like Rent Boy’s seemingly endless cycle of quitting heroin, trying to get his life together, then relapsing again.
As Rent Boy sees it, however, addiction is often about more than drugs—rather, it’s an attempt to deal with the emptiness of the world they see around them. Unemployment is high in Scotland during the time when the story is set, and the jobs that are available are often so unfulfilling that Rent Boy and Spud learn how to specifically fail at job interviews in a way that will allow them to keep their unemployment benefits. Rent Boy’s depression (which gets worse during withdrawal periods) leads him to despise all politicians in all parties and reject consumerist culture around him, raising the question of whether Rent Boy’s drug use causes his dissatisfaction with society, or whether the pain of living in a flawed, dissatisfying society has contributed to his drug use. While other characters are generally less pessimistic than Rent Boy, they too often feel alienated from the mainstream, which they sometimes express through their alternative taste in clothes (the all-black-wearing Nina) and music (such as the musicians Lou Reed and Iggy Pop). Trainspotting offers a bleak depiction of drug addiction, but it also suggests that perhaps the most important part of drug culture is understanding the social conditions that make drugs seem like an appealing option in the first place.
Addiction and Society ThemeTracker
Addiction and Society Quotes in Trainspotting
The sweat wis lashing oafay Sick Boy; he wis trembling. Ah wis jist sitting thair, focusing oan the telly, tryin no tae notice the cunt. He wis bringing me doon. Ah tried tae keep ma attention oan the Jean–Claude Van Damme video.
Ah never wanted anything mair in ma life than fir her tae stoap screamin.— The bairn’s away . . . the bairn’s away. . . Dawn. . . oh my god. . . oh fuckin god, wis aboot aw ah could pick ootay the horrible sound. She collapses oantae the threadbare couch.
Ah sing out, a twisting, pogo–ing mass of rubber. Iggy Pop looks right at me as he sings the line: ‘America takes drugs in psychic defence’; only he changes ‘America’ for ‘Scatlin’, and defines us mair accurately in a single sentence than all the others have ever done.
Myth: Begbie’s mates like him.
Reality: Begbie’s mates fear him.
—It’s also a fuckin good kick.
Tommy looks at us. —Gies a go. Gies a hit.
—Fuck off Tommy.
—Ye sais it’s a good kick. Ah pure wantae try it.
Ah walk tae freedom; perr auld Spud gits taken doon.
A polisman gestures tae him tae move.
—Sorry mate, ah sais, feelin cuntish.
Ah have an unresolved relationship wi ma deid brother, Davie, as ah huv been unable tae work oot or express ma feelings about his catatonic life and subsequent death.
Funny thing wis, jist before this, ah remembered boastin thit ah’d niver OD’d in ma puff. Thir’s a first time fir everything. It wis Swanney’s fault. His gear’s normally cut tae fuck, so ye always bung that wee bit mair intae the cooking spoon tae compensate. Then whit does the cunt dae?
“I always find the term ‘opportunistic infection’ amusing. In our culture, it seems to invoke some admirable quality. I think of the ‘opportunism’ of the entrepreneur who spots a gap in the market, or that of the striker in the penalty box. Tricky buggers, those opportunistic infections.”
It aw started tae go wrong fir the perr bastard whin we came back up here. It nivir stoaped gaun wrong eftir that. Perr Matty.
—Ah well, ah’ll leave yis tae it. Keep up the trainspottin mind! He staggered oaf, his rasping, drunkard’s cackles filling the desolate barn. Ah noticed that Begbie seemed strangely subdued and uncomfortable. He wis turned away fae us.
It wis only then ah realised thit the auld wino wis Begbie’s faither.
—It’s the fuckin best. You ken the Mother Superior, Rents. Ah believe in the free market whin it comes tae drugs. Ah’ve goat tae gic the NHS its due though. Since ah hud this pin oaf n went oan the maintenance therapy ah’ve started tae believe thit the state kin compete wi private enterprise in oor industry, n produce a satisfyin product at low cost tae the consumer.
Tommy looks well. It’s terrifying. He’s gaunny die. Sometime between the next few weeks and next fifteen years, Tommy will be no more. The chances are that ah’ll be exactly the same. The difference is, we ken this wi Tommy.
Now, free from them all, for good, he could be what he wanted to be. He’d stand or fall alone. This thought both terrified and excited him as he contemplated life in Amsterdam.