David and Nic Sheff Help Adolescents Navigate Drugs, Alcohol, and Addiction in New Book

By John Lavitt 01/16/19

Nic Sheff: “It’s what I say to kids who are struggling like I struggled. Hold on. Don’t give up. Get help, and it’ll get better.”

"High" book cover next to pic of David and Nic Sheff
"I learned that we can’t help people with addiction or other problems unless we look at the root of the problems, which are always complex — a combination of factors, including biology, psychology, and environment." - David Sheff

In the new book High, best-selling authors David Sheff and Nic Sheff shift the failed War on Drugs mantra of “Just Say No” to the more enlightened “Just Say Know.” The book comes out on the heels of Amazon Studios’ film Beautiful Boy, which draws equally from David Sheff’s memoir Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction and Nic Sheff’s memoir Tweak: Growing Up On Methamphetamines. Following the awareness generated by the film, the father-son team hope their new volume will become a comprehensive resource for young people to learn about themselves and addiction and in the process gain the ability to make informed decisions about their own behavior, particularly when it comes to drug and alcohol use.

Subtitled Everything You Want to Know About Drugs, Alcohol, and Addiction, the book is written for middle-grade (5th to 8th grade) readers and is designed to provide the facts about substances and substance use disorder in language accessible to adolescents. Based on personal experience and years of research, the well-designed resource will help young people accomplish a series of objectives by embracing a new mantra, beginning with the Socratic directive to know thyself, and then use this knowledge to make intelligent, compassionate decisions.

The following objectives of the Sheff team are constructed as a path to self-awareness:

  1. Know yourself.
  2. Figure out what you want in life.
  3. Weigh the risks of using.
  4. Know the truth and decide.

As opposed to previous attempts to raise awareness by certain forces, High: Everything You Want To Know About Drugs, Alcohol, And Addiction is not a prescriptive tome with an accusatory voice, telling the reader how to live while wagging a finger back and forth. Instead, the father-son account is a deeply personal attempt to translate the traumatic experience of drug addiction within a family. In the process of this translation, the narrative becomes a caring exploration designed to prevent such trauma from happening in other families. It’s like an archeological dig into the horrors of addiction and the miracle of recovery, focusing on the nuts and bolts that make up both complex processes.

From the microcosm of their own experiences to the macrocosm of an encyclopedic approach, the authors provide accurate information about substance use disorder and the dangers of a wide variety of addictions. This is not an encyclopedia, but what David and Nic Sheff manage to accomplish in under 220 pages is impressive. They cover a lot of territory in an easy-to-read format.

The book is divided up into five main sections. The first part is a personal look at Nic Sheff’s struggles with addiction. While detailing how Nic managed to find the path of sustainable sobriety, the authors also provide a basic explanation of substance use disorder and alcohol abuse. The second part of the book is about alcohol and popular drugs in America, with descriptions of the various substances and what they actually do. It separates the myths from the facts. In the third section, the descent from using drugs to becoming addicted is described. A fourth section examines treatment and recovery options while being very honest about the likelihood of relapse. Finally, the last section is a thoughtful dialogue between father and son about what David and Nic Sheff personally have learned about addiction and recovery.

In the dialogue, David and Nic Sheff have a conversation about why they chose to write together on addiction and their personal investment in the book. Nic discusses how such a book could have helped him when he was first heading into the dark woods of addiction. He says, “If I’d known to pay attention to how I was feeling, maybe I would’ve asked for help. Parents, doctors, counselors — they can help. And even if they didn’t know exactly how to help, they could’ve directed me to someone who could’ve. I really believe that.”

Hearing his son talk about what could’ve happened as opposed to the devastating crystal meth addiction that actually occurred appears to be painful for David Sheff. What father does not want to go back and save a child from such suffering? When asked by Nic what he learned in the struggle to help his son find a path to long-term recovery, David doesn’t even know where to start.

With emotion, he says, “I learned how complicated people are — how much we are all dealing with, and that life is really hard, and as a result, people are always looking for something to numb the pain, to distract us, to make us feel better. I learned that we can’t help people with addiction or other problems unless we look at the root of the problems, which are always complex — a combination of factors, including biology, psychology, and environment. And I learned about love. It’s more powerful than almost any other force, and it can help us get through what we don’t think we can survive.” 

Combining the wisdom of the loving parent and the son in recovery from addiction, David and Nic Sheff apply their hard-earned experience in life and their expertise as writers to create a unique and valuable resource. Most importantly, the book takes complex ideas and makes them accessible to tween and teen readers. From addiction as a family disease and how drugs seduce the brain to the dangers of polydrug use and debunking myths about drugs (is marijuana addictive or not?), the co-authors cover a lot of bases. The aim is to provide a solid base of knowledge about all aspects of alcohol, drugs, and addiction while also keeping young readers engaged.

Throughout the book there are personal stories from other people with substance use disorders combined with a wide variety of cartoon imagery, interactive questions, and informational graphs. Overall, there is a sense that both David and Nic Sheff know from personal experience what is at stake and they’re taking great care to make sure they attract and keep the attention of their potentially vulnerable readership. The book also includes useful appendices of addiction terminology, emergency phone numbers, and other helpful resources.

The book closes with a passionate expression of Nic Sheff’s dedication to his ongoing recovery: “It’s what I say to kids who are struggling like I struggled. Hold on. Don’t give up. Get help, and it’ll get better.” 

David and Nic Sheff’s deepest desire is to save lives. By providing accurate and helpful information within the context of their strong and emotional commitment to recovery, the father and son team take on one of the most challenging problems today. The United States has the highest rate of drug-related deaths in the world, with opioids accounting for the majority of the deaths. In most cases, those deaths are preventable. With High, David and Nic Sheff hope that accurate and accessible information will create understanding and self-knowledge in young people so that when the time comes, they’ll have the confidence to make decisions that may end up saving their own lives.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.