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Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction

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With a new afterword

Now a Major Motion Picture

What had happened to my beautiful boy? To our family? What did I do wrong? Those are the wrenching questions that haunted David Sheff’s journey through his son Nic’s addiction to drugs and tentative steps toward recovery. Before Nic 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 warning signs: the denial, the three a.m. phone calls—is it Nic? the police? the hospital? His preoccupation with Nic became an addiction in itself. But as a journalist, he instinctively researched every treatment that might save his son. And he refused to give up on Nic.

340 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2007

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About the author

David Sheff is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling memoir Beautiful Boy. Sheff's other books include Game Over, China Dawn, and All We Are Saying. His many articles and interviews have appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Wired, Fortune, and elsewhere. His ongoing research and reporting on the science of addiction earned him a place on Time Magazine's list of the World's Most Influential People. Sheff and his family live in Inverness, California.

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5 stars
29,991 (37%)
4 stars
32,577 (41%)
3 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 7,041 reviews
Profile Image for Nancy.
557 reviews760 followers
October 16, 2015
Posted at Shelf Inflicted

I never understood the appeal of meth. It’s made in clandestine labs using an array of chemicals that are flammable and hazardous to your health. The drug is highly addictive and has dangerous side-effects. Your teeth fall out, your jaw collapses, you get those ghastly sores and ulcers, your cheeks become hollow, and your eyes are sunken in. And that’s only on the outside. On the inside, your brain looks like Swiss cheese, you become paranoid, irritable and even violent.

At one time, cocaine was my drug of choice. No fancy paraphernalia, no needles, and it’s a plant derivative. The high doesn’t last as long and if I want to stop, there are no physical withdrawal symptoms. Plus, it had the added benefits of keeping my weight down at its lowest, making me the life of the party, and acquiring more friends than I knew what to do with. So it has to be healthier for you, right? Who was I kidding?

My job performance suffered, I became paranoid, I was hardly eating at all, and I slept only sporadically. There were nosebleeds, jitters, dry mouth, running nose, and depression. There was the scary emergency room visit for an asthma attack during a party where drugs, alcohol and cats were rampant. My neglect to mention my drug use to the doctor treating me nearly caused me to have a heart attack.

One morning I woke up and decided enough is enough. My love affair with the drug was over as quickly as it started. Since that day, I never touched the stuff again.

I’ve read stories about drug addicts, but none told from a parent’s perspective. Nic Sheff, a college student in his early 20’s, continues to battle his addiction. This is a beautiful and painful story told by his dad. He’s not a perfect man and he’s made a lot of mistakes, but there was never a doubt in my mind that he loves his son dearly. Through the ups and down of Nic’s addiction, his dad’s constant worries and fears ultimately affected his health until eventually he sought the help he needed and learned to create healthy boundaries.

I’m looking forward to Nic’s story – what made him start using, his relationship with his parents and siblings, and the effects his parents’ divorce had on him.

All I can say is I’m glad I don’t have kids.
12 reviews
July 21, 2008
I checked this book out of the library after hearing David Sheff and his son Nick interviewed on NPR. I found this book annoying and unrevealing (for a memoir) and yet I couldn't put it down. David Sheff discusses his own drug use and alludes to his immaturity/commitment issues as a factor in his divorce from Nick's mother which he blames mostly for his son's drug problems, but he never discusses the root of his issues (or even specifically what they were beyond immaturity) or how they affected his parenting style -- or even what his parenting style was beyond "hanging out" and having fun during his time w/ Nick (it appears he only disciplined Nick when he was caught w/ drugs). You learn nothing about David Sheff's childhood and I only found out that one of Nick's grandparents died from alcoholism from reading Tweak. Let me also add that after the divorce David Sheff regularly took Nick to adult parties and dinner parties, treating him like a "friend." (A fact also glossed over by Sheff in his memoir but revealed in Nick's memoir Tweak). So clearly there are many more layers -- like being able to set appropriate boundries as a parent -- to this story than Sheff is willing to admit to or write about. Instead he writes family scene after family scene of Nick being this golden boy as a child/teenager which becomes annoying because clearly Nick had problems beyond the divorce when he was a young child. A memoir may be an author's recollection of past events but is David Sheff really that clueless about the effects of his own behavior on his son beyond the obvious?

On the plus side, you do pull for Nick to get his act together through various rehabs and relapses which kept me reading until the end, and the info./research on meth is really interesting and scary/informative, especially if you have children.
Profile Image for Mary Deacon.
37 reviews54 followers
November 28, 2018
David Sheff didn't miss a single experience of having a drug-addicted son. He seconds guesses himself repeatedly. David reads about it, asks questions, studies new and old treatment, loses sleep, abandons himself of loved ones, sets apart his life over and over again. David is depressed. He makes himself physically sick. He can't turn to God. Sheff didn't miss a fucking beat. I've had this book for a year before I could bring myself to read it. I regret putting it off so long.
Profile Image for Tayari Jones.
Author 18 books28.8k followers
June 1, 2010
The writing was good, but I couldn't stop thinking that rich people are very lucky. Thier kids can be drug addicts and not go to jail. It would have been better if the author had really acknowledged that.
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,396 reviews7,270 followers
February 18, 2021
What I pictured the entire time I was reading this flaming hot turd . . . .

Nothing like being a privileged white condescending jackass/total enabler who spends his kid’s formative years bragging about his own drug use and then remains in a constant state of denial about how fucked his kid is for eternity. And even better – the kid apparently needed fucking PSYCHIATRIC HELP HIS ENTIRE GODDAMN LIFE, but was never taken to anything but a therapist (who was another piece of shit and only offered “boys will be boys” or “all kids go through phases” type of advice) because Cool Dad is super cool and would never subject his perfect “beautiful boy” to something that could actually help him but might have the undesired side effect of besmirching the good family name with a diagnosis of multiple mental illnesses.

This book is crap. Parents who cash in on their children’s problems are crap. The now grown kid is a selfish piece of crap. The message to never give up is crap. If you know me you know I had a sister who died from a heroin overdose. Our family would have been so much better off if we all had cut ties with her years before her addiction finally won. It doesn’t make you a bad person to say enough is enough – it makes you a realist with a sense of self-preservation and it protects those who actually give a shit about their life and their loved ones from dealing with the aftermath of everything a garbage human can inflict on you for potentially the next 50 fucking years.

I read this with my kid because it was assigned to him at school and I wasn’t about to make him go it alone. Here’s an extra fuck you to teachers who don’t at least let students pick their own selection out of a list and assign 1 Star quality tragiporn as mandatory reading.
362 reviews8 followers
June 8, 2014
This is a book full of numerous examples of how over-idealization of a son by his father can cause as many problems as insufficient attention paid to the child. If you can believe this father, his son was nothing short of the second coming. No wonder the son became a lying, stealing, self-absorbed addict who took multiple rehabs to kick a habit. This is a cautionary tale for parents. Okay, I just re-read what I wrote, and I know it's probably too harsh. But I really believe it's harmful over-indulgence to so glorify our kids' importance and intelligence. To me this son's supposed brillance came off sounding smart-alecky and self-important. Plus, I don't think the author actually ever gets what he could have done to speed up his kid's coming to grips with addiction. The dad was a master enabler to the son's detriment.
Profile Image for Cori.
790 reviews132 followers
October 26, 2022
This family has incredible moxie, man. The strength it would take to throw your mess out to the wolves hoping it could help a few lost sheep is awesome. Not to mention, the father and son both did it. I love that. The juxtaposition between the two books is amazing.

I see a lot of mixed reviews on this. Some people are pretty condemning towards David's failures as a father. Some people completely lack empathy towards Nic. I understand the difficulty they have, but until addiction hits you an a personal way, you will only continue to pick apart the details of why instead of having empathy to be effective, or helpful, in the situation now. David did things wrong. He messed up. Absolutely. Nic did too. But here we are, so where do we go from here? I saw the face of hundreds of my own patients in this story. This is real. No one is harder on them in times of attempted rehab than they are on themselves. Typically. No one carries blame like the loved ones of the addict. Typically.

The theme that I loved in David Sheff's book was, "Don't become addicted to your loved one's addiction." Yes, yes, yes! This is huge. My heart goes out to the Sheff's: faults, mess, imperfections, and all.

If you have never had exposure to substance abuse, either as a user or the loved one of a user, read these books. Heck, even if you have! Read these books. They can be hard to get through. But they're important. And give the Sheffs grace. They never pull punches about their flaws. We don't need to add to their struggle.

I'd rate this book an R for explicit drug use, sexual references, and thematic material.
Profile Image for Maria Espadinha.
1,002 reviews351 followers
September 6, 2019
The Battle

Beautiful Boy is a non-fiction story about a fight: a desperate father and a doped son embarked in a battle against methamphetamine.
The refered battle could have been shorter if father and son didn’t waste so much time battling each other instead of acting as a team towards the devilish meth 😈
Not that they were kicking nor biting one another, but there are other ways of fighting, like when a guy does one thing, whilst the other does exactly the opposite, which was definitely the case!...

All in all this is a book about the devastating effects of drug addiction both against the direct victim, and a caring relative.
Another scope of the book is showing the aftermath triggered by the continued consumption of meth. The author did enough research to scare rats, sharks and elephants, which is my own private metaphor for “everyone under the sun“!...
Profile Image for Jen.
2 reviews3 followers
May 16, 2008
I liked this book a lot better than Tweak. The father is a great writer, and he did a great job making me feel as if I was going through the experience with him. He also presents a lot of research on crystal meth and its effects on users. I changed my rating from a 5 to a 4 after I read Tweak however. After I read Beautiful Boy, I was really freaked out about the accessibility of drugs, and the father made it seem as if everyone in the world will eventually try drugs at least once in their life and that all kids are experimenting no matter if they've been told that it's bad or not. He was not telling the entire story about his son however.

In Tweak, Nic reveals some very graphic events in his early childhood, and his father exposed him to too much. I do not have a doubt in my mind that that is part of what steered Nic to drugs. I don't think many parents realize exactly how important those early years are in a child's life. Their minds are like sponges. Nic's father would take him to adult parties where he would meet druggies. He was able to watch movies only appropriate to adults. There were few rules and boundaries when it came to the relationship Nic had with his father. Nic even admits in his book that he felt like he grew up too fast, that he didn't have a normal childhood.

Throughout Beautiful Boy, the father plays this "Woe is me" battle, and of course I had sympathy with him because I cannot imagine being a parent and watching your child destroy his life, but I just think there was a little more to the story that the father did not reveal in his book that was important as to why Nic started doing drugs in the first place. This review sounds really harsh, but I just get so upset with how parents raise their children sometimes, and then they wonder why their children are getting involved with drugs, sex, and fighting when they're older.
Profile Image for Caroline .
406 reviews551 followers
May 7, 2020

This is so much more than a straightforward memoir about a father struggling to save his drug-addicted son. Most strikingly, it’s a heart-rending testament to the unconditional and powerful love a parent has for a child. I was deeply moved by Beautiful Boy and know I’ll never forget it.

The account is made even more tragic by how journalist David Sheff set up the narrative. He started from the very beginning, when his beloved son, Nic, was born, showing well how this all-American golden boy, who was whip-smart and well-liked, seemed destined for the happiest and most successful of futures. Sheff implied that Nic was the kind of kid no one expected would become a drug addict. This account underscores well the important maxim that addiction doesn’t discriminate.

Beautiful Boy is a tremendous accomplishment and a revelation. Sheff held nothing back, from trying to survive each day to his most vulnerable moments: the tense and sometimes heated conversations with Nic, his paralyzing fear, self-blame, desperation, and the torturous worry--his most loyal companion. As Sheff says later in the book, Nic’s addiction became Sheff’s obsession, an addiction all his own.

The memoir’s poignance comes from a raw candor. Sheff is a humble narrator who shoulders some of the blame--probably more than he should--for Nic’s addiction, and he spoke with total openness:
When I am alone, however, I weep in a way that I have not wept since I was a young boy. Nic used to tease me about my inability to cry. On the rare occasions when my eyes welled up, he joked about my “constipated tears.” Now tears come at unexpected moments for no obvious reason, and they pour forth with ferocity. They scare the hell out of me. It scares the hell out of me to be so lost and helpless and out of control and afraid.
Al-Anon meetings, where he openly cried on more than one occasion, became essential. All the while, his son lived on the streets of San Francisco, a shadow of his former self.

Sheff’s son was primarily addicted to methamphetamine, and in the course of trying to save him, Sheff researched meth. “Know your enemy,” was his thinking. He included much of that research in Beautiful Boy. The drug is unlike any other--more destructive, especially difficult to quit. Research has proven that it’s “neurotoxic, physically changing the brain far more than cocaine and most other drugs do.” The brain damage may be permanent, rendering the addict unable to ever recover. Reading this, knowing how hopelessly addicted Sheff’s son was, pushes Beautiful Boy into the realm of frightening.

Many addicts have written memoirs about their struggles, but how their loved ones struggle is more of a mystery. This memoir fills an important void, because, as Sheff revealed, their suffering is life-altering and nightmarish too, just in a very different way. They need validation and support. Addiction hurts more than just the addict. Beautiful Boy is a profoundly moving experience.
Profile Image for Abbey.
40 reviews2 followers
April 28, 2011
I want to light this book on fire, then stab out the chunks of my brain that remember this book.

David Sheff's emotional illiteracy is astounding. Case in point: at some point after Nic has his 32587th relapse, David and Jasper go for a hike together. Here is a perfect opportunity for a father to talk about some really important and scary events with his youngest son, and instead the conversation goes like this:

David: -manly silence-
Jasper: "You're worried about Nic, aren't you?"
David: "Yeah."
Both: -manly silence-


I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that David probably also neglected to teach Nic ANY EMOTIONAL COPING SKILLS WHATSOEVER, which is probably why he turned to drugs?

The book is just littered with I'm-getting-paid-per-word filler. My favorite passage is on page 253:

"After summer hours, mornings are a challenge, but we get the kids to school on time today. I'm writing. I'm writing again after being unable to write a word. This afternoon, Jasper has soccer..."

The fact that that paragraph was published is an affront to all of humanity.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
584 reviews30 followers
August 20, 2008
Finally. I. Am. Done.

I swear this book took me a month to read. Maybe longer. I just could not get into it. I read the companion, Tweak, written by his son, and I thought it would be interesting to hear the other perspective. Blah. What started as an article for The New York Times Magazine, the overwhelming response prompted Sheff to write a whole book. Bad idea. It was obviously stretched beyond it's means, and Sheff often relied on random quotes from movies and songs to fill space. I would really only recommend this book to those who have an addict in their lives; it will probably provide them with a lot of comfort. I didn't get much out of it.
Profile Image for Malia.
Author 6 books543 followers
November 22, 2020
Oh boy, this was not an easy book to read, but I won't be quick to forget it either. Sheff tells a moving, though deeply unsettling account of his son's drug addiction, how he as a father coped with it, and how it affected his family. I'll need a while to really digest Beautiful Boy, but I do want to read the son's account, (Tweak by Nic Sheff), to try to understand the experience from his view. The point Sheff got across was just how hard it is to help someone with addiction, how draining it is on every level to watch someone you love more than anything descend gain and again into the darkest places and to feel your hopes rise and then die again as well. I felt such deep sympathy for both the father and the son, all the while being so frustrated by Nic's perpetual relapses. But it just shows that even people with loving families are not exempt from drug addiction. I'll be thinking about this book for some time to come and definitely recommend it.

Find more reviews and bookish fun at http://www.princessandpen.com
Profile Image for Jennifer.
1,721 reviews6,663 followers
July 30, 2018
3.5 Stars
Beautiful Boy is a memoir written by David Sheff about his experiences as he tried to save his teenage son from drug addiction. Beautiful Boy was an incredibly informative reading experience for me personally. This book may do a better job at capturing the attention of readers who are parents themselves or have a family member or friend who suffers from addiction. The emotional toll addiction takes on loved ones was documented well and provides a wealth of perspective and information. The main drug discussed is meth [methamphetamine], but the journey through addiction can crossover to many other drugs of choice. The moral of this story is to stay educated, act immediately if someone under your care has risk factors for/shows signs of drug use, and don't give up. Additionally, self-care, boundary setting, and continuing to nurture other relationships are crucial for the caregiver. David appears to have many regrets over parenting style/choices that likely had an impact on his son Nic, but based on this self-written account, he did everything he knew to do in order to help his son. Genes versus environment. Addiction as a disease is genetic, but the onset of drug use is environmental. Say no to drugs, kids (and adults).

I read this book in anticipation of the film adaptation due to be released in October 2018. Although, I predict the film will be emotionally heavy given the talent of the cast, the reading experience wasn't in my opinion. The father discusses the pain, grief, and fear associated with watching a loved one battle this disease, but I think it was easy (at least for me) to remain objective because of all the segues into research/journalism. Emotion was continually interrupted which I personally appreciated and I think it was the best writing style for this type of book so it could be a learning experience for readers first and foremost. Overall, Beautiful Boy was a well-written and well-researched memoir that I'm glad I read. I also plan to read the son's memoir: Tweak which is Nic's own account of growing up with addiction.

My favorite quote:
"Sometimes it startles me that life goes on, but it does, inexorably."
Profile Image for Dora Silva.
143 reviews60 followers
August 19, 2019
Que leitura maravilhosa, perdemos tempo com coisas tão supérfluas, a vida é tão preciosa, realmente há histórias de vida que são capazes de nos deixar a pensar.
Que pai maravilhoso, que pessoa lutadora e incrível.
Brevemente opinião em Livros à Lareira com chá.
Adorei!!! Recomendo vivamente!!!
Profile Image for Madison.
7 reviews40 followers
May 21, 2008
For people close to an addict: Read this book if you have not yet realized that you are not alone.

Obviously I'm aware that I'm not the only person out there with an addict in the family. However after reading this book, I realize that I'm not alone in feeling completely confused, furious, wronged, neglected, saddened, helpless, judged, torn, and exhausted, (not to mention a million other things) when dealing with my always recovering drug addicted sister.

David Sheff represents the wrath of addiction so well I felt as though he was describing my family - my sister. Read this book and perhaps you might not feel just so crazy as you did before because you just didn't know what to do. Don't worry - None of us do. Read this book and it might just make you have a bit more hope, which is all you can really control when it comes to addiction.

Bravo to David Sheff for giving an honest voice to the other victims of addiction. You all are not alone.
Profile Image for Mark.
39 reviews1 follower
July 29, 2009
What I learned from this book? Well, the rehab/relapse cycle is, uhhh, cyclical, which means that *you probably shouldn't write an interminable chronological account of it*. I've seldom been quite so thrilled for a book to be finished, not least of all because this author is one of the most hideously self-obsessed and self-congratulatory people I've ever had the displeasure to spend way too much virtual time with. Nothing that the addicted son, nor either of his other two children, nor he himself has ever done isn't noteworthy enough to dote on laudatorily as though no kid in the history of humanity has ever done a halfway creative book report or messed around with Garage Band to make a song before, even if it has no narrative or even emotional purpose in furthering the book. Relatedly, it's a boomer nightmare of "I'm not your dad, I'm your best friend, little dude!" garbage. "Hey, I dig Nirvana! I'm cool, right?"

The writing is fine. Grammatically sound, etc., but dull. If the author's point was to make the reader feel the same hopeless numbness that comes after countless revolutions of the rehab/relapse cycle, then mission accomplished; only problem is that this is less than riveting -- or even tolerable -- without a strong emotional connection. There is not a strong emotional connection.

The bottom line is that I'm wholly unsurprised that this book began as a New York Times Magazine (or was it New Yorker?) article, because it reads like 15 pages of relatively compelling yet somehow drily distancing (for its subject matter) writing stretched out and repeated until it reaches a 300-page (or whatever) book. Blarf.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,851 reviews34.9k followers
February 20, 2012
*Sunil*: I came back in here to 'edit' my *STARS*.....(you gave it 4): Pretty high for you, too!

I'll always give this book a *5*! I admire David for writing it. (you know 'our' daughter was sick for years .....different ...yet the same in ways) ---

We even had some connection with David ----(but that is besides the point) ---

I felt the book contributed 'BETTER' than MOST to what ANY parent goes through --- (it hard so much fricken heart ---it was painful).

ok.....I've got things to do ---I wrote to you TWICE before 5am this morning! lol

Profile Image for Cathyb53.
11 reviews2 followers
June 17, 2008
Gut-wrenching! I read this because I saw the author, David Sheff, talking about it on Oprah, and because I have children close in age to his son; although I was fortunate enough to avoid the hell of parenting an addicted kid, I have been there with many of my friends, and with friends of my kids'.

There's nothing new in this story - the "plot", such as it is, is painfully familiar to so many of us baby-boomers as our own children reached the danger years. The strength of this story is in the author's honesty about the unspeakable, at times unbearable, pain suffered by the father of an addict as he tries to roll with the punches his beloved son gives out. I think that unless you are a parent yourself perhaps you can't fully understand the horror of seeing your child, your very own child whom you have loved more than the universe itself, descend into the nightmare of addiction: the helplessness, the all-consuming nature of the distress, the way it reaches into every corner of your life, even causing you at times to sacrifice all the good things you may have going for you - Sheff's story is so raw and brutal that I could physically feel my heart being squeezed as I read of his pain.

Because here's the secret thing: Sheff's son could have been my child, or the child of any one of us Boomers. We played with drugs in our own youth, we tried to raise our children in what we thought was a new world, different from that of the generations before us and somehow more promising - but somewhere along the way things went horribly wrong, and so many of our children have descended into a life we would never have thought possible for "one of us". It is this identification with the pain and bewilderment Sheff feels that made this, for me, a compelling and powerful work. I was lucky - my own children were lucky - and we avoided, by the grace of who-knows-what-power, the misery of addiction, but in my heart I know that with a few fairly simple twists of fate it could have been me trying to figure out how to parent an addicted and relapsing child. This book made me feel so lucky, and so sad for those who weren't.

David Sheff is an excellent writer; his ability to articulate his pain makes this book all the more compelling. He has an amazing ability to make this account NOT just another "oh, ain't it awful?" memoir. We don't need more of those! But I do believe that reading this book will bring humility and gratitude to those of us who have only had to witness the struggle as we've seen it in friends, and children of friends, and friends of children, and a rare empathy, if not comfort, to those whose circumstances have brought them more intimately into the struggle. And that's where the power of this book really lies - in its ability to provoke our empathy for both parent and child, because in doing so it enriches our connection, our humanity.
Profile Image for Diane.
86 reviews3 followers
July 1, 2018
I was so engrossed in this memoir. It is the story of a father watching his child destroy himself and the havoc that wreaks on the family he comes from. Not my story but close enough. So much of his horrifying journey struck a chord or a memory. During teen years, the somewhat innocent experimentation/desire to feel differently mindset that teens get involved in can take them on a roller-coaster addiction cycle from which it is hard to break free. I feel for all of these ‘beautiful children’ and the families who love them.
Profile Image for Kyle.
374 reviews541 followers
July 14, 2018
I’m bitter about it. I know. It’s shitty of me to say these things, but my initial positive reaction to this book is hampered by the fact that it’s essentially about a severely addicted individual, who grew up in, and has maintained even after sobriety, a life of privilege. Drug and alcohol addiction is an un-biased monster. It affects all walks of life. I know this. It’s just, to be frank, irritating to hear about a young white male of high socioeconomic standing, manage to be so thoroughly privileged during (and subsequently following) such dark years, when there are stories out there of people (due to their lesser social stations) who don’t have the advantages that Nic does... and especially don’t have the connections that lead them book deals and careers working in television.

Not to say that Nic, who now allegedly lives a drug and alcohol-free life, should have wound up impoverished and working menial jobs... but I cannot get over the fact that, yes, his family has money, and they continue to take in money, and Nic himself has even managed to draft his own bestselling memoir (among other novels), and has even written movie reviews (my dream job!) for highly mainstream publications, and for popular television.

And I understand there is no choice in how you grow up— whether it be wealthy or paycheck-to-paycheck. But Nic’s family made some mistakes that only exist in the bourgeoisie world of theirs: You do NOT allow a hardcore drug addict to move thousands of miles away to live with (another) privileged family you know, and then purchase said drug addict a fucking apartment in BROOKLYN where they can essentially shoot up in peace. What happened to tough love? Just another young, rich white guy living off mommy and daddy in NYC, except with a terrible meth habit. It’s sad, and it’s counter-productive. Soon enough, though, the situation and emotions catch up with them: the resounding, numbing resignation to their son’s plight, as well as their own. They finally realize it’s best to cut him off financially, and offer no outs but rehabilitation. You cannot help someone who does not want to help themselves— every case isn’t going to be like any other, but it mainly boils down to that. I’m a sober adult living maybe not my best life, but a clean life. And I’m content. The particulars of my story are different, but the overall ugly truths are not. Nic has, again, opportunities that far exceed most.

On the writing:
David Scheff’s writing is resoundingly concrete and concise, but oftentimes dull and redundant (much like the stages of his son’s addiction: cyclical and repetitive in terms of rehab, relapse, rehab, relapse etc. etc.). There were many times, too, where I found him a bit self-congratulatory; attempting to come off as a hip father: frequently mentioning indie/cool bands and hipster films, as if there was some weird kind of pride behind his telling the reader of this. I get it. You don’t need to incessantly reference reading The New Yorker, and Wes Anderson, and camping trips to Big Sur, or jetting around the world for vacations. It instills a message of disingenuous smugness, even if only meant in a harmless way. Something else to point out: The book itself is overlong. What started as an article in a newspaper, grew into a story that was stretched far beyond its own parameters, in what felt like an effort to fill pages. 80% of the book was, for me, uninspiring any emotions. The last 20% eventually evolved into one of strong emotion and familial struggle, through Nic’s continued addiction and (Fifth? Sixth?) recovery process. Within those final 80-or-so pages, I felt David’s hurricane of emotions quite viscerally: grief and pain, hope and disappointment, anxiety and numbed-out grave acceptance that his life, and that of his son’s, will forever be a seesaw of addiction and recovery, where the former may be a few months and the latter a few years, or a couple of days and a decade.

And I’ll say this: I’m so happy Nic continues to work on abating his addiction— and I say “continues”, because it’s an ongoing process, and he’ll be in recovery for the rest of his life. You mentally never stop being an addict; you only stop physically being one. This is a story that, even with its flaws, is one worth telling. There are many valuable insights here— for parents, brothers and sisters, friends, spouses, and children of addicts. The drug epidemic in America is just that: an epidemic! The author writes that “Addiction is America’s deep, dark secret”, and that’s damn accurate. I don’t know of any one person that hasn’t dealt with addiction in one way or another— a family member, a friend, a child, a lover, themselves. It’s killing us; it’s taking over and destroying the youth of this country. Because, let’s face facts, teenagers and young adults are using more and more since the early aughts. We hide it under rugs and behind closed doors most of the time, but it’s there. Drugs have been, and will continue to be, a major problem in the United States, and I’m glad that there is renewed interest in memoirs such as David and Nic Scheff’s (because of the upcoming film adaptation) for the sole reason that it’s bringing the addiction crisis back into the mainstream.

I’ll end with this: More needs to be done to combat/treat the disease. Until the war on drugs in this country is won (or made somewhat less catastrophic), we can strive to erase the stigma against addicts and recovering addicts, and help the populace that is in recovery by supporting them however we can and for as long as we can.
Profile Image for Anne ✨ Finds Joy.
275 reviews65 followers
December 14, 2018
The recently released movie, Beautiful Boy, is based on a pair of memoirs from father and son David and Nic Sheff that chronicle, from each of their points of view, the heartbreaking experience of survival, relapse, and recovery in a family coping with addiction over many years.

The father shares his perspective in this book, Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction, while the son's book is Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines

I read the father's book first, rating it 4*, and then the son's book, which I rated 3*. I have combined my review for both books into one review.

I admire both the father and son for being willing to share their stories in a very public way, and my heart went out to them. Parenting is messy. Divorce is messy. Teen years are messy. Mental health is messy. The availability and addictive nature of drugs like meth is extremely messy. This story is REAL LIFE in ALL its messiness, and it's not an easy read. But it's such a unique experience to see this type of experience told from two viewpoints, so I recommend reading both books - they are very distinct.

The father, David Sheff, is a journalist and writer and that comes across in how complete of a story he tells. The father has a maturity that enables him to see a bigger picture, to reflect upon all the different aspects, and to have integrity in telling this story. The depth of the father's love for his son permeates the book, even when he has to make extraordinarily difficult decisions in dealing with his son's addiction.

The son's book is not as polished, but is unflinchingly honest. Nic Sheff was still only in his early 20's when he wrote his book, and he had experienced multiple relapses back into drugs. He had only just been diagnosed as bipolar/depressed, and started on medicines to try and help with that. At the time of writing his book, Nick did not yet have the maturity or the distance to write a balanced story. But he writes with intense honesty, sharing ALL the ugly of his drug addiction. It was hard to read about it, with lots of trigger warnings- lots of drugs, lots of sex, lots of lying, lots of selfish destructive behavior. Nick does share some deep insights that he begins to learn going through this, but you can tell it will be more years before he can apply those insights consistently to live a clean life. At the end of this memoir the struggle is still very real for him. I wasn't too surprised, but of course saddened, when I read the blurb for his next memoir written 5 years later that he continued to struggle with the cycle of relapsing. Mental health and addiction is such an ugly, messy beast.

David and Nic were both so brave, and honest, and real with sharing their story. It's an important story to talk about. There are many families who have gone through similar experiences, many teens/young adults battling drug addiction and mental health issues. I hope that the Sheff story will help those other families not feel so alone, and that it will ignite more conversation on these serious topics.
Profile Image for aPriL does feral sometimes .
1,844 reviews420 followers
March 26, 2022
‘Beautiful Boy’ is an insider's memoir written by a grieving anxious father, David Sheff. He writes about his and his family's life with an adult son, Nic, who is an addict currently in recovery - again. Again. Again. Again.

I think it is as honest of a book as a person can be about himself. No doubt it cannot reflect complete truth - who of us can see all of ourselves and our loved ones at all times? But whatever confusions, and perhaps a few self-protective instances of skewing the remembered personal behavior towards a more exculpatory memory, I believe the book gives readers an excellent idea of how one addicted family member stresses -and maims- the other members of an ordinary upper-middle-class family.

David Sheff candidly describes his own past involvement with drugs, comparing it to his son’s life with drugs now in the 21st century. David, like most of us baby boomers in the 1960’s and 1970’s, could barely go one day without running into an opportunity to access drugs. Similar to David’s remembered experience, I too saw most of my friends and acquaintances get high occasionally, with a lost weekend every once in awhile. However, again like what David remembers, there were the kids and young adults who seemed to be getting high all day every day.

David beats himself up a lot because he divorced Nic’s mother in an ugly legal fight involving lots of lawyers and mutual enduring vindictiveness. David remarried and had two babies with a new wife, and Nic’s mother also had new relationships. A scared Nic ended up traveling at the age of five alone in airplanes between his father’s and mother’s new families. However, in describing the daily life of his new nuclear family, it is clear to me David had financial and cultural resources available to him. He could provide what most educated American upper-middle-class families feel necessary to give their beloved children. David also had lots of financial safety nets for paying for Nic’s rehab from insurance plans. The author feels much grateful relief for his financial nets.

I agree Nic had it rough emotionally. I agree divorce often messes most children up for awhile. David put Nic into therapy when Nic was in elementary school to work out his displacement and anger issues. To me, David seems a pure example of a modern so-called ‘helicopter’ parent, although he was often distancing himself by pushing others to handle the emotional angles. Maybe David may have been a little immature and feeling excessively guilty. This is not uncommon or unnatural, though.

Gentle reader, I must warn you my review from this point reflects my sour attitude, not David Sheff’s or Nic’s. I grew up, was a child, with alcoholics in a blue-collar neighborhood. I have had drug-addicted friends, neighbors and family members. But David is coming from a middle-class place of parental, and adult, guilt, confusion, sorrow and love, so his book was written with a slight tunnel vision. Perhaps he is still shell-shocked. He is still honestly searching for answers and he has hope for Nic’s recovery, although near the end of the book he is showing signs of awareness that his kid is drowning. I survived a childhood of despair, and my parents both died before I was 31 years old.

Later in the book, Nic’s growing drug use, especially of meth, begins to affect everyone in the family as well as spreading around more financial and emotional carnage. David attends meetings and participates in family therapy sessions in many many many many many many many many varieties of addiction rehab centers where Nic tries to kick his addictions again and again. David learns a great deal about popular illegal drugs. He learns all of the current theories of why and how addictive people begin addictions, and how addicts spiral more and more out of control, sucking in family members, friends and acquaintances like destructive tornados and hurricanes.

As the chapters in the book and the years roll on (Nic began using cigarettes, drugs and alcohol from age 13), David conscientiously includes all of the medical and psychological theories into his book. He also mentions the painful effects of the uncertainty and anxiety of expecting something going wrong today. He and the other children are worn out. (The other children appear to be neglected and frightened - and I suspect they are feeling like they have to be the adults and protect their parents - a common family dynamic I don’t think David knows is probably occurring as I suspect it was.)

David Sheff thinks drug abuse may be caused by a combination of Nature and Nurture. He is obviously under the influence of lingering guilt and a sense he is responsible for his son’s issues.

Below are my personal reflections and views:

The brains of many addicted and ex-addicted individuals I knew showed signs of permanent damage LONG before death. Many people in my life, including my own parents, died too early. Many of the causes of death were from physical body damage incurred from years of abuse of alcohol and drugs. These once normal people had severe memory issues, occasional confusion, and an inability to connect logical dots sometimes - all of which became worse and permanent with age. I saw how walking was unbalanced and limbs shook, sometimes, in people who were only 45 years old. I saw an occasional inability to judge distances or to understand complex conversations or in how to make sense of the pushing buttons or opening doors. Middle-aged ex-addicts had much less understanding in how to fill out complicated forms or in reading dense material. The smartest ones lost brain abilities less than ones who never had very much intellectual stimulation, but everyone I have ever known who has suffered a long-term addiction has lost some brain function.

For many ex-druggies and ‘cured’ alcoholics, reaching the age of 60 years is more like turning 75. Alcoholics’ brains physically shrink, and lose mass. Many of my personal ex-addict acquaintances were victims of early strokes and transient ischemic attacks (TIA’s), which:

“happens when blood flow to part of the brain is blocked or reduced, often by a blood clot. In a short period of time, blood flows again and the symptoms go away. With a stroke, the blood flow stays blocked, and the brain has permanent damage.” Quoted from Google.

In the book, Sheff mentions meth physically burns the tips of neurons, which hopefully recover and grow back in ex-meth addicts.

It is VERY possible addictive personalities are born; in other words, predilections for addiction are caused from Nature, from multiple sources such as defective brain chemistry and/or wiring, and/or genetics. Regrettably, brain disabilities which display only in psychological symptoms appear to be the most difficult to accept socially, even ones we now understand better like schizophrenic brain-wiring and bipolar chemistry.

Generally, our society barely has any consistency in our medical responses to physical issues, much less does anything to treat physical illnesses with psychological symptoms. Addicts need to help themselves. If they can’t or won’t, there is nothing in the Universe which will help them.

I used to smoke cigarettes, but I believe I basically am not an addictive personality. I started smoking when I was 19. Quitting was hard, and it took me three tries. I finally did it at age 31.

People think there is moral strength in developing independence. It IS a good thing to begin developing some independence when you are a teenager. My parents, though, were terrible parents from when I was born. I became accustomed to being somewhat responsible for my own maintenance and surviving under my own self-directed caretaking at a too-young age. I think this results in children who become quite narcissistic and self-centered necessarily to survive the hopefully only occasional insane parenting. I had to develop survival strategies when only a child - or as a toddler - especially so if it seems only you care if you live or die, has its effects.

Nic was passed back and forth between his divorced parents, traveling on airplanes alone, feeling friendless and unloved and not safe, from the age of five as his parents shared him between the two newly created families. Nic must have felt unwanted. Worse, being a child, you believe the rejection of yourself by your parents is all your fault, that you are defective. You see other parents love and taking care of their children - especially on TV. Worse, Nic’s dad made two new babies he adored for his new family.

Life is often painful and scary to a five-year-old operating daily without care, affection or direction, inadvertent as it may be. Avoiding pain and fear becomes paramount psychologically as well as physically for a kid. Parents can be a cause of the pain and fear, not a palliative to it. As a child, I suffered despair and feelings of being unwanted. I learned to console myself with education, reading and setting goals to better myself, guided by elementary-school teachers unaware of my home life. However, I continued to feel an ache of feeling unloved, and sorrow that no one appeared to care about my accomplishments. Rage and hardening up as I grew older helped me somewhat. I started smoking to spite my dad, who hated smoking - which is typical typical childish revenge: I will hold my breath until I die and then you all will feel sorry! I think kids who feel as if they do not get enough love, or who feel like a fifth wheel in the divorce and remarriages of parents, must feel emotions similar to these. Drugs kill psychological pain very well.

But strangely, demonstrating the tangles between estranged parents and children, I still recall how my alcoholic mother's sudden death surprised me in spite of everything, shocking me deep in my soul. I felt as if I were a helpless baby kitten or puppy being stomped to death by a trusted caretaker when she died. The Universe betrayed me - not just my impaired mother.

No worries, gentle reader. I survived.

So, whether addiction is genetic or environmentally caused, any family dysfunction as well as natural personality responses are certain to be determinants of success or failure in rehabilitation. The age of people when chronic trauma occurs and/or addictions begin is a big part of the equation, imho.

Drugs and alcohol numb feelings and cause physical waves of pleasure. They reduce the feelings of inadequacy and failure and worries and fear. It seems to me one of the reasons rehab fails is we are trying to replace the benefits of drugs and alcohol with personal inner strengths addicts don't have. Most of us have had help in building inner strengths as children through peers, school, and education along with parental guidance and love. Young addicts have no inner strengths. For adults, and as it is for children, inner strengths have to be built from scratch. When people are trying to do this after childhood, it can feel as artificial as a prosthesis.

Based on what I saw growing up with addicted people, I suspect most addicts cannot actually be cured in the conventional sense of curing a disease. The miasma of inchoate sad emotional baggage, not quite understood, definitely not examined, that begins for most of them when children with undeveloped brains, is not their fault. The fog becomes thicker, heavier, by the addition of their own mistakes as young adults. The intensity of the cravings caused by their addictions and the minute physical destruction of cells and nerves inside their bodies is a lot to overcome. Some do. Most don’t.

I think society needs to stop expecting total ‘cures’. We should supply addicts with the substances they need, or any less damaging alternatives, reducing the pressure on them to find a way to feed their addiction. Using moral 'cures' seems to make addiction cravings horrifyingly worse, in my opinion. I suspect it is the failure of moral behavior of others, such as early parent betrayal for one example, which caused them to embrace the numbing of addiction (and made permanent because of genetics).

Moralizing simply triggers bad feelings from childhood traumas, bringing back painful memories of how little any actual effect morality had on many behaviors people directed towards them in their baby and toddler years. Trying to teach damaged adults to lean on customary moral or religious strengths - the same social moral strengths in which their parents and society failed them when children - often doesn’t work. They only really fully trust in the self-medication of drugs and alcohol, not the love and support of people or a god, to alleviate psychic pain.

If we want to truly fix addiction in addictive personalities, I think it must happen while people are children, before parents neglect or mistreat their kids because of poverty, divorce, or other life distractions, or just being evil. Once and if addiction begins, unless it is caught early before the brain has been irreversibly changed, society should support the addiction as gently and controlled as possible, much as we would provide medicine for diabetes, in specialized medical facilities. If the family is suffering predator behavior from an addicted family member, I think the family should remove that member from the home, especially if there are other children.

Families are often the cause which damaged an addictive child psychologically, whether purposefully or not - so even if the family reforms itself, and still finds it possible to love and trust an addicted one, clearly an addict can’t come back as if nothing happened. Addicts often have a damaged brain forevermore frozen in a bad childhood time, no matter how much the family may have changed with maturity or better circumstances. The few who succeed in expensive rehab, after usually a minimum of three attempts, do not prove to me rehabilitation works enough often enough when so many more die of being severely addicted despite many attempts to quit. Rehab is an endgame, a last resort, a hopeless hope, with a low success rate. It's clearly better to never start a substance abuse in the first place.
Profile Image for Ewa (humanizmowo).
438 reviews71 followers
July 7, 2022
Bardzo bolesna książka przepełniona miłością i strachem ojca. Czytając miałam cały czas łzy w oczach.
Profile Image for Maria Espadinha.
1,002 reviews351 followers
September 6, 2019
A Batalha

A história começa com um Nic alegre e brincalhão, entusiasmado com o reencontro com o pai e irmãos mais novos que já não vê faz 6 meses.

Quadros felizes que cedo serão demolidos e substituídos por outros onde a luta ombreia com o desespero. Nic abrira a porta à metanfetamina, que se instalara abusivamente na sua vida, com efeitos corrosivos que chegaram para ele e transbordaram para outros...

Além disso, sendo o autor jornalista, seremos igualmente guiados pelos meandros do imponente negócio que consiste na reabilitação de drogados, e... “presenteados” com uma exposição detalhada dos efeitos destrutivos da diabólica metanfetamina...

Beautiful Boy é uma leitura dura que foca uma realidade que nos toca a todos, um vírus para o qual não à vacina, e que (e agora façam figas para que não)... pode contaminar a vida de qualquer um ...
Profile Image for Laurie  (barksbooks).
1,696 reviews655 followers
April 18, 2019
This is a grueling and sad account of a family torn apart when a beloved son with a promising future becomes addicted to alcohol and meth (one of the worst of all drugs because it permanently alters your brain). I read this after watching the grueling and heartbreaking movie of the same name. I am again filled with sadness for all of them. Why did I do this to myself?! Now I'm off to listen to the son's account because I crave more torture, apparently.
Profile Image for Tina (aggss112).
156 reviews92 followers
May 6, 2022
Ok, lo admito. No suelo leer libros de memorias/no ficción, pero eso no significa que no quiera; tengo varios en mi tbr que estoy emocionada por descubrir. Siento que la ficción es buena retratando la experiencia y las emociones humanas, sin embargo nada es mejor como la realidad pura y dura, ¿verdad? Le tenía fe a esta historia, ya que amo leer sobre relaciones de padres e hijos y esperaba aprender más sobre la adicción a las drogas.

Me siento mal criticando esto porque al fin y al cabo esta historia es real, con personas y situaciones reales. Yo no soy nadie para juzgar las acciones ni las personalidades de esta gente, pero lo voy a hacer. Qué seres más aburridos! No sé si fue por la narración o por otro motivo, las primeras cien páginas fueron tortura para mí. Entiendo que tenía que presentar todos los hechos de manera concisa, pero era así: hicimos esto. Luego esto. Y esto. La vida sigue. NUNCA un libro me hizo considerar la vida cotidiana tan aburrida… o quizás es que yo no estoy acostumbrada a leer este tipo de libros. O esta familia es muy privilegiada para mi gusto. Listo. Lo dije. Yo sé que las personas con dinero y con estatus tienen problemas, ese no es mi problema. Mi problema es que las páginas eran una sucesión de listas a lugares geniales a los que fueron, cuán cool es este padre con todas estas referencias de películas y música… lo hacía sentir todo tan vacío y superficial. No se sentía una historia real, la cual es.

Otra cosa que confieso que no sé si estará bien decir: de tan aburrido que era casi esperaba otra recaída del pobre chico para que la lectura me fluyera normal. De hecho las partes más interesantes eran en los centros de rehabilitación donde conocíamos a otros pacientes con las familias, las reuniones y terapias grupales. Me importaron más las personas que tuvieron dos páginas que la familia principal. Hasta me emocioné mucho más cuando se les murió el perro. Es muy triste decir esto porque yo esperaba sentir algo, conocer a David y a Nic en profundidad, y no pasó. Nic me daba igual lo que le pasara, él como persona me dio igual y siento que nunca se habló de lo que se tenía que hablar. Nunca sentí que padre e hijo se sentaran a charlar de manera profunda acerca de todos sus problemas. Quizá sí lo hicieron y no se incluyó acá, quien sabe.

Ahora mi mayor problema: la escritura. David Sheff es periodista, escribe para revistas y periódicos como el The New York Times y esas cosas y se nota bastante. Cuando tiraba datos y entrevistaba a otras personas se sentía natural. Cuando describía paisajes y recreaba diálogos ya no. Hay algunas cosas que sus hijos decían que parecían muy de telenovela, perdón. Siento que este señor podría haber llegado a más si se aferraba a los sentimientos conflictivos hacia su hijo, hubo partes así pero no suficientes. El final me dejó indiferente.

Sin duda me quedo con el mensaje del libro: es complicado amar a tus hijos en situaciones tan extremas, es difícil ayudarlos sin perdernos a nosotros mismos y sobre todo sin perder la esperanza en el camino. Me resonó a mi papá en algunas partes, y me hizo sentir muy agradecida de tenerlo cómo es, con sus preocupaciones y todo. Dejo esta frase del libro que me gustó (una de las pocas):

“El resentimiento es como beber un veneno y esperar que la otra persona muera.”
Profile Image for Kerri.
114 reviews17 followers
June 28, 2008
3.5 stars. Hmmm... so close to to four stars. A tough read, an easy read. A father's account of his son's addiction to meth (among other things), but there's so much in here that's familiar to anyone who's known someone addicted to anything. The same things that make me consider this book "just okay" (the repetition of themes, the over-dramaticism, the self-absorption) are the same things that make it so realistic and relatable to anyone who's had with an addict in their lives. He does a good job of capturing the paradoxes of addiction; all these conflicts that just don't add up in any logical way: You have no control... but don't you have influence? It's a disease; it's not their fault... but they're the only ones who can control it.

The literary quality of the book's debatable. A bit dramatic and self-aggrandizing. But at the same time, I think it perfectly depicts the mental state of the author. I have a hard time looking at the book objectively. Other than the fact that I have a recovering addict in my own life, the book takes place in all the places I know, and I always have an affinity for those.

The author leaves us with hope and tools for coping but not certainty, which is exactly how it should be.

It's not the best work of non-fiction, but any stretch, but I'd pretty much recommend it to anyone.
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