Beautiful Boy

by David Sheff

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 580

Beautiful Boy by David Sheff tells the story of methamphetamine addiction from the perspective of the father of an addicted son. Though he’s not the one suffering from addiction, David’s perspective is crucial to the story, which is not only about how Nic’s drug use impacted his own life but about how his disease impacted his entire family. Beautiful Boy is largely a story of grief, and it reveals the emotional struggle of both the addicted person and his loved ones as they wade through feelings of anger, pain, guilt, and hopelessness. In the throes of addiction, Nic retreats to an inner world and remains disconnected from his loved ones, but David also retreats inside himself at times, unable to cope with his guilt and depression. 

​​David's story highlights the fact that addiction can strike any family. Nic had a fairly normal childhood—he was a happy boy who got good grades. His parents divorced when he was young, which is a fairly common experience, as the divorce rate in the United States is around 40–50 percent (according to the American Psychological Association). David’s response to his son’s early drug use is informed by his own experiences as a member of the baby boomer generation, a liberal-thinking generation who grew up in an age when drug use was accepted, and even glamorized, as a part of popular culture. David finds it challenging to determine when his son’s drug use has become dangerous and crossed the line, as his own experience led him to believe that experimentation with drugs is a perfectly normal part of teenage life. Indeed, David himself dabbled with drugs in his youth.

David's guilt, in large part, defines his emotional struggle, as he believes his mistakes and liberal parenting may have contributed to his son's problem. Already a naturally anxious parent, David cannot stop himself from second-guessing his decisions as a parent, including his choice to be honest with Nic about his own past drug use. Throughout the memoir, David also wonders whether his divorce was partially responsible for his son's addiction. These destructive thought patterns touch on one of the recurring themes of this memoir: the placement of blame. David faces an ongoing struggle to absolve himself for what his once-successful son has become, demonstrating how common it is for parents of addicts to blame themselves and feel guilt over their child’s disease. As he learns more about the science of addiction, David is able to accept that his role as a parent—both in causing Nic’s addiction and in ensuring his recovery—is very limited. In the end, David comes to acknowledge that Nic’s choices are his own and that only Nic is in charge of the path his life will take.

This story is ultimately about the wide-ranging struggles addiction brings to a family's life, the guilt parents of addicts feel when they can't find a solution to their child's addiction, and the journey back to a healthy life after addiction. Even as he supports Nic’s journey toward recovery, David realizes that there is no such thing as having a truly "normal life" after addiction. Addiction is a disease of the brain, and the struggle against drug abuse is cyclical and can be lifelong. Though the memoir is filled with the heartbreaking details of his and Nic’s struggles, David ends his story by giving readers hope that the disease of addiction can be managed.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access