Pain and Beauty on the Road to Recovery: David and Nic Sheff


Alessandra Bontia, Staff Writer

On Tuesday, January 8th, the author of the best-selling memoir Beautiful Boy, David Sheff, and his son, Nic Sheff, the author of the book Tweak, came to Tenafly High School to talk about their intimate relationship with drugs and addiction and to promote their new book, High.

The night began with both Sheffs signing copies of their books and talking with the large crowd of people waiting in line. The event, sponsored by the Tenafly Chemical and Alcohol Prevention organization, or CAP for short, brought people in from all over the county to hear from the real-life people behind the film Beautiful Boy.

THS Echo

As the night progressed, the event moved into the Tenafly auditorium, where both David and Nic spoke about their own personal relationships with Nic’s addiction. David spoke as a parent facing his child’s addiction, and by telling his story, advised other parents with some of the mistakes he had made and wished to have changed. The younger Sheff went into intimate details about how he got roped into drugs, some of the motives behind his usage, and the struggles and mental obstacles he had to overcome in order to fight the illness of addiction.

“It’s a day by day recovery,” said Nic, “but rebuilding the relationships that had been broken is amazing. It reminds me why I am sober.”

After they both spoke, the floor was opened to members of the audience to ask questions. Surprisingly, many of the people who asked questions also were brave enough to share their own stories dealing with their children’s addictions and the inevitable challenges they had to face when trying to balance “tough love” with physically helping their child face this illness.

“I had to get a restraining order [on her son],” recounted one woman when sharing her own story. “I didn’t know what to do anymore. I just had to put my foot down.”

Throughout the question and answer section, many of the questions that arose centered on how we, as a community, could make a difference and protect our youth from falling down the dark hole of addiction.

“A message we were given when we are kids is ‘Don’t use drugs. Drugs are bad. Just say no,’ and it didn’t work,” said David Sheff when asked about how to stop the epidemic of youths becoming addicted to illicit substances. “If it worked, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now.” Both father and son heavily emphasized education’s role in the fight against drugs and admitted that educating youth was one of the main inspirations for their new book.

High, the Sheffs’ collaborative novel, is centered on how to communicate and educate teenagers about addiction. They both believe that education is the way to really get to the root of this problem. Additionally, they both agreed that the way addiction is handled and viewed is what contributes to prolonged struggles with substances. “Addiction is not a choice,” said Nic Sheff during a private interview. “It’s not a moral failing. It’s a disease and it has to be treated as a disease.”

The recent film Beautiful Boy, which stars accomplished actors Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet, only brought even more light to the life of the Sheffs. Through both the book’s popularity and the movie’s success, the Sheffs were able to connect with families all over the country and “talk to people about addiction and recovery,” said Nic.

And talking to people was something that both Nic and David found comfort in, since they were able to realize that “it happened to other people,” said David. “People keep addiction secret because it is very shameful. People are judged. People feel guilt, but we wanted people to know that this can happen to any family; it is very pervasive. First of all, you’re not alone, and second of all, there are ways to support somebody when they do become addicted.” They continue to go around the country speaking to people so that anyone who struggles with this problem knows that they do have support and someone to talk to.

The night was filled with laughter, tears, smiles, and sadness, but in the end, it was not only an emotional experience but an educational one as well. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and/or mental health troubles, reach out to someone you can trust. You are not alone, and there are plenty of resources for you to find comfort in.

Addiction Hotline: 1-800-662-4357

Mental Health/Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255