Nic Sheff began using drugs at a young age and was able to conceal his use for much of his adolescence, until his addiction overtook his life. His father, David Sheff, decided to learn everything he could about addiction, as a way of healing himself and his son.
They each explored their experiences through writing. Nic Sheff penned his first book, Tweak: Growing up on Methamphetamines, in 2007. His dad published his book, Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction, in 2008. Their stories were adapted into a film in 2018, also named Beautiful Boy, starring Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet.
David Sheff says it was difficult to open up about his son's addiction, but it's something both of them decided was important.
Nic Sheff says, "I remember the editor of Tweak saying to me at the time, 'Don't write this book because you want to write it, only write it if you have to write it.' And it really did feel that way. It felt like I had to get it out of me."
David Sheff explains, "As much as it was scary for us — it was scary to expose our family to that kind of scrutiny — you know, it felt important to say we were like many other families. Because people don’t talk about it, we don’t know how pervasive it is, we don’t know the fact that the people in the next house or the next cubicle or wherever it is are also suffering with somebody in their family who’s addicted."
Now, the Sheffs are sharing their research and experiences in another book, High: Everything You Want to Know About Drugs, Alcohol, and Addiction. The book is written for young adults, as a way of exploring why teens use drugs, how drugs impact someone's brain, and personal relationships.
"We set forth to give real, solid information, with this idea that, you know, kids want information, they deserve information because they're going to make their own decisions anyway," says David Sheff.
He points to a study about why kids use drugs. Parents questioned in the study believed kids used drugs because of "peer pressure" or they "just want to get high." But he explains that, "By and far, kids said that the reason they use drugs is because of stress."
But using drugs as a way of self-medicating can lead to other consequences, as his son experienced when he was a young man.
Nic Sheff says, "As a high school student, whenever I was feeling any kind of difficult emotion, I was always reaching out to drugs and alcohol to make myself feel better. So, I never learned to sort of cope with things the way that a healthy teenager is supposed to — that's when your brain is developing, that's when you're learning how to have relationships, and to succeed and to fail, and deal with all the life stuff that we all have to deal with."