Mark Renton is a heroin addict with a reputation for randomly kicking his habit and relapsing just as suddenly. His propensity to do both is a joke among his friends and acquaintances. Mark prepares to go with his friend Sick Boy to see their dealer, Mother Superior, as Sick Boy is in withdrawal. Mark and Sick Boy belong to a group of heroin addicts known as the Skag Boys, and most people except for their closest associates try to avoid them.
During the Edinburgh Festival, Mark attempts to imitate Sick Boy’s method of coming off heroin. He uses one hit of heroin to help him deal with the relative torture of going to the grocery store—a place he typically avoids because it is full of nonaddicts who annoy him. Mark realizes that, at least for the time being, Mother Superior has disappeared, and the only other drug contact he has is Mike Forrester. Mark goes to Mike’s place to get a hit, but Mike senses Mark’s desperation and makes him suffer through a number of jokes and mind games before he will give Mark anything. Finally, Mike produces opium suppositories, which he claims are the perfect thing to help Mark break his addiction to drugs for good, as they are slow release. Mark declares that he wants a hit of heroin, but he pays for the opium anyway.
Soon, both Sick Boy and Mark are off heroin. Sick Boy is only interested in attracting women, and Mark is concerned about Sick Boy’s sexist attitudes, which annoy him. As Sick Boy contemplates which of the young women he has just met will have sex with him, the thought of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) courses through his mind. He reasons that if did not contract AIDS by sharing needles with the rest of the Skag Boys, then he could not get it by having intercourse with a woman. He is reminded of a friend of both himself and Mark, Goagsie, who is human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-positive: It is unclear how Goagsie contracted the virus. Those with HIV and AIDS serve as a warning to others who are at risk, especially heroin addicts. Sick Boy laments that, without heroin or a woman and her money, he has nothing with which to fill himself. Since he has given up heroin as being unsafe, all he has left is women and their money.
The Skag Boys are awakened to the screaming of a woman named Lesley: Dawn, her baby, is dead. Mark notices that the infant resembles Sick Boy; however, he realizes that she could have been the child of any of the Skag Boys.
At night, the Skag Boys and their friends and acquaintances are at a pub. Mark fetches drinks for everyone. When Begbie finishes drinking from a glass pitcher, he throws it over his shoulder and off the balcony. The act creates chaos. The scene is indicative of why Mark has grown tired of Begbie’s company. He has been forced to be his friend since elementary school, but, as Begbie’s violence has increased, so has Mark’s impatience with him.
Tommy, a soccer-playing friend of the Skag Boys, is dumped by his girlfriend Lizzy. He goes to visit Mark while Mark is relapsing and back on heroin. Tommy is curious about heroin and what it does for people. Mark introduces Tommy to heroin.
(The entire section is 1293 words.)