In general, I feel the same way about drug use that I do about sex scenes in literature and cinema, the latter I may elaborate on in another post, but suffice to say that they far more often than not fail as plot devices and disrupt flow. Flashback and dream sequences are known to do the same. If they do not advance plot then they are worthless, and an entire story built around drug use tend to be nonstories. Drug use in itself is not interesting in the same way that eating is not inherently interesting.
What are good examples of drug use in literature and cinema (which, I should add, are driven by plot regardless of whatever examples you can name that run counter to this axiom)? Brave New World has soma to describe our need to anesthetize any pain we encounter. Pulp Fiction’s overdose scene is critical to the story. A Scanner Darkly utilizes the effects of drugs on the dissolution of identity as a parallel to technology’s same effect.
I bring this up because I’ve been reading Tao Lin’s Taipei, which is about disaffected Brooklynites who abuse prescription drugs because of their extreme disaffection and discomfort in the world. While drug use is essential to the plot, it makes for boring literature. This is because, again, drug use is not interesting in itself. Scene after scene of blurry and “vague” existence is not compelling (“vague” and “indiscriminate” become the operative words. About everything; time, thoughts), and any argument about how Lin is describing such dull lives is hollow, for a good writer should make anything interesting. There is no greater sin than to bore your reader. If Joyce can absorb my attention with the thoughts of a man as he shits, then why can this writer not say anything interesting about searching for meaning in life? No, Lin’s hero is too disaffected, too different for anything as common as that.
[I have yet to finish the book, though I will for perhaps an anthropological sense of the disaffected youth (is it not the word for the hip millennial crowd?) and because I know a lot of people like this, whom I am basing some of my characters on in my inchoate novel.]
The only maxim I can give for writing is that if you are going to include drug use in a story, treat it as you would any other detail of a person. From playing tennis to smoking weed, nothing is interesting unless it reveals something. Think about real life: are you really that titillated, especially when you are sober, by your friends when they are drunk or high? Absolutely not, and the reader is no different.