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Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addictionby David Sheff
Synopses & Reviews
Sheff's story is a first: a teenager's addiction from the parent's point of view — a real-time chronicle of the shocking descent into substance abuse and the gradual emergence into hope.
Before meth, Sheff's son Nic was a varsity athlete, honor student, and award-winning journalist. After meth, he was a trembling wraith who stole money from his eight-year-old brother and lived on the streets. With haunting candor, Sheff traces the first subtle warning signs, the denial (by both child and parents), the three A.M. phone calls (is it Nic? the police? the hospital?), the attempts at rehab, and, at last, the way past addiction. He shows us that, whatever an addict's fate, the rest of the family must care for each other too, lest they become addicted to addiction.
Meth is the fastest-growing drug in the United States, as well as the most addictive and the most dangerous — wreaking permanent brain damage faster than any other readily available drug. It has invaded every region and demographic in America. This book is the first that treats meth and its impact in depth. But it is not just about meth. Nic's addiction has wrought the same damage that any addiction will wreak. His story, and his father's, are those of any family that contains an addict — and one in three American families does.
"Expanding on his New York Times Magazine article, Sheff chronicles his son's downward spiral into addiction and the impact on him and his family. A bright, capable teenager, Nic began trying mind- and mood-altering substances when he was 17. In months, use became abuse, then abuse became addiction. By the time Sheff knew of his son's condition, Nic was strung out on meth, the highly potent stimulant. While his son struggles to get clean, his second wife and two younger children are pulled helplessly into the drama. Sheff, as the parent of an addict, cycles through denial and acceptance and resistance. The author was already a journalist of considerable standing when this painful story began to unfold, and his impulse for detail serves him personally as well as professionally: there are hard, solid facts about meth and the kinds of havoc it wreaks on individuals, families and communities both urban and rural. His journey is long and harrowing, but Sheff does not spare himself or anyone else from keen professional scrutiny any more than he was himself spared the pains — and joys — of watching a loved one struggling with addiction and recovery. Real recovery creates — and can itself be — its own reward; this is an honest, hopeful book, coming at a propitious moment in the meth epidemic." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"When David Sheff discovered marijuana in his 12-year-old son's possession, he was concerned, but not unduly alarmed. Sheff, like many others of his generation, had taken drugs in college. But the problems didn't stop there. Through the next decade, Sheff searched frantically for his son along grimy San Francisco streets, endured sleepless nights when he feared that his beloved son was dead, and enjoyed... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) periods of hope when Nic enrolled in rehab programs — almost always followed by news of relapse. In the grip of his addiction, Nic took money from his 8-year-old brother, forged checks, broke into houses and stole morphine and hypodermic needles from a cancer patient, the mother of a girlfriend. Friends and family became afraid of him. When he ended up in a hospital bed hooked up to life support, his father wondered if this might be 'hitting bottom,' and perhaps even reason for hope. But as soon as he could, Nic pulled out his IV and walked away. Yet 'Beautiful Boy' is also filled with loving, even joyous descriptions of Nic, a born beatnik and outsider with passionate and sophisticated tastes in film and music, and a creative imagination. A talented writer drawn to such authors as Kafka, William Burroughs and Charles Bukowski, Nic won a student writing contest in high school and had a My Turn column accepted by Newsweek. David Sheff wrote an article about his experiences as the father of a meth addict for the New York Times Magazine, and the widespread and wholehearted response by readers prompted him to expand it into this memoir. ('Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines,' Nic Sheff's own memoir of his troubles, recently was published as a book for young adults.) David describes his family's ordeal with a lucidity that will undoubtedly help many addicts and their families, providing not only a wealth of factual data but also the steadying assurance that they are not alone in their grief. He eloquently describes the sense of isolation and horror that accompanied his realization of what was happening to Nic, and the help David found in support groups. Like any parent whose child is in trouble, Sheff searched his own past and conscience for the cause. He and Nic's mother had divorced when the boy was a toddler, and Nic spent his childhood summers flying back and forth between their homes — his father's in San Francisco, his mother's in Los Angeles. Sheff wonders: Did the resulting disorientation cause his addiction? Or was it perhaps something in the father-son relationship? Had Sheff been too permissive? Too controlling? Was he wrong to have told Nic about his own youthful drug use, even though he'd stressed that it was a mistake? Sheff ponders the certainty of some experts who claim that addiction is a disease: If so, Nic can hardly be blamed for having it. And yet it's Nic who chooses, again and again, to put the drugs into his body. 'Beautiful Boy' makes clear that there are no definitive answers to these questions. When David suffers a brain hemorrhage, he realizes what a toll Nic's addiction has taken on him, and on the rest of the family. He begins searching for a way to make peace with all the uncertainties. Sheff's reportorial skills serve him well. He interviews psychologist Judith Wallerstein, whose research about the deleterious effects of divorce on children angered many feminists. He talks to scientists about the permanent physical effects of meth on the brain. He comes to believe that marijuana is indeed a gateway drug, and he discovers that there is no certain cure for addiction. Rehabilitation programs offer the most hope, but the world of rehab is a patchwork of theories and practices, none of them scientifically proven. In addition, rehab is not a one-time event but a process that, even when successful, can take years, with the addict failing, recovering and failing again before he succeeds. This memoir shows both how seductive meth can be and what a huge problem it has become in the United States. Although 'Beautiful Boy' is filled with compelling anecdotes and important insights, the book could have used some trimming. Nic's story eventually becomes repetitive, and some of the author's stylistic quirks begin to seem intrusive. Sheff also quotes a few too many experts and repeats some facts a bit too often. Nonetheless, he has written an eye-opening memoir." Reviewed by Juliet Wittman, author of 'Breast Cancer Journal: A Century of Petals', Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"An excellent book that all parents can relate to whatever their children's situation." Library Journal
"A clear picture of what meth addiction does to a user and those who love him that may help other families better cope with this growing problem." Kirkus Reviews
Sheff's story tells of his teenage son's addiction to meth, in this real-time chronicle of the shocking descent into substance abuse and the family's gradual emergence into hope.
What had happened to my beautiful boy? To our family?What did I do wrong? Those are the wrenching questions that haunted every moment of David Sheff s journey through his son Nics addiction to drugs and tentative steps toward recovery. Before Nic Sheff became addicted to crystal meth, he was a charming boy, joyous and funny, a varsity athlete and honor student adored by his two younger siblings. After meth, he was a trembling wraith who lied, stole, and lived on the streets.David Sheff traces the first subtle warning signs: the denial, the 3 A.M. phone calls (is it Nic? the police? the hospital?), the rehabs.His preoccupation with Nic became an addiction in itself, and the obsessive worry and stress took a tremendous toll. But as a journalist, he instinctively researched every avenue of treatment that might save his son and refused to give up on Nic.
Beautiful Boy is a fiercely candid memoir that brings immediacy to the emotional rollercoaster of loving a child who seems beyond help.
About the Author
David Sheff's work has appeared in the New York Times, Outside, Rolling Stone, Wired, Fortune, and elsewhere. His piece for the New York Times Magazine, "My Addicted Son," generated several hundred letters from readers and won an award from the American Psychological Association for "Outstanding Contribution to Advancing the Understanding of Addiction."
Table of Contents
PART I Stay Up Late 17 PART II His Drug of Choice 105 PART III Whatever 123 PART IV If Only 171 PART V Never Any Knowing 235
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