Beautiful Boy

by David Sheff

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Beautiful Boy Summary

Beautiful Boy, published in 2008, is a memoir by David Sheff that details his son's battle against drug addiction.

  • Nic Sheff is born to David and Vicki Sheff in 1982. Though his parents eventually divorce, Nic has a happy and normal childhood.
  • Nic begins casually using drugs at a young age. By the time he graduates high school, he is experimenting with increasingly dangerous substances—including methamphetamine, which he eventually becomes addicted to.
  • Nic's addiction slowly changes his personality and damages his relationship with his family. After supporting Nic through years of treatment and multiple relapses, David is optimistic that Nic can maintain sobriety


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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction is a 2008 memoir by journalist David Sheff that follows his experience trying to help his son, Nic, through drug addiction. The memoir was inspired by a 2005 article Sheff wrote for The New York Times titled "My Addicted Son," which outlined the struggles of watching his son's battle with addiction. In 2007, Nic Sheff published his own memoir, Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, which tells the story of his addiction from his point of view. In Beautiful Boy, Sheff shares his and his family's deeply personal story in an effort to dispel the notion that addiction is simply a moral failure on the part of the addicted individual and to help people better understand drug addiction as a medical condition.

Beautiful Boy comprehensively addresses many parts of Nic's life, from the destructive behaviors that foreshadowed his drug problems to his attempts to recover. The story unfolds chronologically, beginning with Nic's birth in 1982. David and Vicki, Nic's mother, divorce when Nic is only a few years old. David goes on to marry Karen, and they have two children together—Jasper and Daisy. Nic begins to dabble in drug use at an early age and is caught smoking weed when he is only twelve. His serious issues with drugs evolve later, however, when he begins using methamphetamine at age eighteen. Though Nic is enrolled in college, he is forced to drop out before completing his first year due to his worsening methamphetamine addiction. Over time, Nic's addiction strains his relationship with his family, and Nic takes money from his siblings and uses it to buy drugs. After Nic is arrested for drug possession right in front of his family, David installs a security device in their home to preempt any break-ins.

Though Nic initially denies his addiction, it soon becomes obvious that he is spiraling out of control. Desperate to help, David helps Nic enter treatment and recovery programs many times—only to see Nic relapse again. As his addiction persists, Nic becomes increasingly estranged from his family, and David is stunned and heartbroken to see the son he loves dearly transform into someone almost unrecognizable. Throughout the memoir, Nic's struggle is colored by his father's grief and anxiety as David wonders how much his actions as a parent may have contributed to his son's addiction. In seeking to help his son, David learns a great deal about the science of addiction and the various forms of treatment available for recovering drug addicts. Despite arming himself with this knowledge, David still struggles to completely internalize the idea that a parent's ability to influence their child's addiction—for good or ill—is often very limited, as addiction is a medical condition influenced by a myriad of external factors like psychology and genetics.

Despite the personal toll his son's struggles take on him, David doesn't abandon Nic as he undergoes treatment in a variety of rehabilitation centers, sometimes against his will. Nic achieves periods of sobriety a number of times over the years, even reenrolling in college at one point, but he relapses every time, sometimes almost immediately after leaving rehab. Though the process is painful, David learns that relapses are often an inevitable part of recovery, and he comes to understand that addiction is not a temporary affliction that can be suddenly and permanently cured, but a disease that Nic will have to fight against for the rest of his life. David and the rest of the family also undergo counseling to help them process and productively deal with the traumatic ways in which Nic's addiction has affected their own lives.

Near the end of the memoir, Nic maintains a continuous sober stretch for two years before relapsing once more. At the time David is writing the memoir, Nic is again about to reach the one-year mark in his sobriety. Ultimately, David is hopeful that Nic's relapses have ended and that he will be able to maintain sobriety, but he concludes by acknowledging that only Nic himself can control the outcome of his life.

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