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Addiction in the Movies: Beautiful Boy

Based on a 2008 memoir of the same name, Beautiful Boy is the latest portrayal of addiction on the silver screen. Debuting to widespread critical acclaim, the film centers on the relationship between a father and son—the latter of whom, a teenager, is grappling with an addiction to methamphetamine.

David and Nic Sheff, the father and son portrayed in Beautiful Boy, each wrote a memoir about their experiences during Nic’s addiction and subsequent recovery—with David’s entitled Beautiful Boyand Nic’s entitled Tweak. The two stories come together in this new film, tackling the same painful and emotional subject matter in a different format.

Portrayed by Steve Carrell on film, David Sheff struggles to understand how he can help his son throughout his battle with addiction—a familiar situation for millions of parents grappling with addiction in their families worldwide.

Meanwhile, Nic becomes involved with drugs and alcohol at an extremely young age—admitting in Tweak that he was drunk for the first time at age eleven. Throughout his adolescence, Nic suffers multiple relapses and attends many cycles of inpatient treatment.

The Story of Nic and David Sheff 

Though the Sheffs’ story was first published in 2008, their story is one that resonates with perhaps an even wider audience than before.

Today, twenty million Americans have an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Nearly half of Americanshave a friend or family member who has been addicted to drugs; one in seven will face a substance addiction at some point in their lifetime.

By sharing their story so openly, and allowing it to be portrayed on film for a greater audience, the Sheffs are bringing terrific awareness to a crisis that can touch any family, anywhere. Their story is harrowing, yet hopeful—Nic, now 36, has been sober for eight years, as viewers learn in an after-credits title of the film.

The journey was not an easy one, and for the Sheffs, revisiting this time period in their lives as it was recreated on film was not easy, either.

Nic Sheff told the New York Times, “We’ve had to deal with every last piece of the complicated puzzle of our history. It feels like there’s nothing we can’t talk about, nothing we have to shy away from or ignore. That feels like a huge gift, too.”

Methamphetamine Addiction

Nic Sheff was primarily addicted to methamphetamines, or more specifically, crystal meth. A stimulant drug, methamphetamine itself typically comes in a powder format, while crystal meth has a glass-like appearance. It is typically smoked or snorted, and has powerful short and long-term effects.

Methamphetamines can have the following negative short-term effects on the body:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Decreased appetite
  • As it is a stimulant, increased physical activity/time spent awake

Methamphetamine becomes addictive due to its stimulation of the naturally-occurring chemical dopamine in the brain. As the drug quickly releases dopamine, it reaches reward areas of the brain that make the user want to repeat the behavior of taking the drug.

A highly addictive substance, meth and crystal meth are often “cooked” in illegal labs, making it nearly impossible to know what types of extremely dangerous substances have been put into the concoctions. Household substances such as acetone and even battery acid are common ingredients.

A Powerful Message  

Now in recovery, Nic Sheff has taken the opportunity to share his story with the public, letting families into his own family’s extremely private ordeal. While his crystal meth use is behind him, his story is very much a part of who he is today, and will serve as a reminder of the dangers of drug use, as well as a beacon of hope to those who are struggling, for years to come.

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