by Nic Sheff

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Tweak Summary

Tweak is a 2007 memoir that documents Nic Sheff’s battle against methamphetamine addiction and his efforts to maintain sobriety.

  • At the narrative’s beginning, Nic Sheff reflects on the life experiences and choices that led to his drug addiction after he breaks an eighteen-month stretch of sobriety.
  • Supported by his sponsor, Nic manages to reestablish a stable, sober life in LA, but he eventually relapses again.
  • Nic’s next attempt at treatment proves more successful, as he finds therapists who work with him on both his drug addiction and the mental health issues that underlie his substance abuse.


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Last Updated November 3, 2023.

Tweak chronicles the intense years-long battle of a drug addict against his addiction. In the beginning of the memoir, Nic Sheff, a young man in his early twenties, walks the streets of San Francisco with eighteen months of sobriety under his belt. However, after a chance meeting with a former lover named Lauren—herself four months sober—Nic and Lauren relapse. During this relapse, Nic befriends Gack, a dealer he finds on the street, and the two come up with a plan to sell diluted methamphetamines at a profit.

Nic’s personal drug of choice is methamphetamines, but he and Lauren use cocaine, heroin, and crack as well. Throughout Nic’s drug-laced narrative, readers come to learn more about Nic’s personal history and why his drug use is so out of control. Nic’s parents’ divorced when he was quite young, and though he got along well with his father, David, who had primary custody, Nic deeply missed his mother when she relocated to Los Angeles. Nic depicts himself as a sensitive person with a passion for all things artistic: he writes and draws in a journal every day, and he is even working on a screenplay. Nic’s father, a successful journalist himself, generally encouraged Nic’s artistic pursuits growing up.

David and Nic have always shared a close bond, but Nic acknowledges that this resulted in a rather unconventional childhood where Nic was often treated more as a friend than a son. David took young Nic along to gallery openings, shows, and parties in San Francisco—places where Nic was exposed to more adult life than he had the capacity to absorb. Nic began experimenting with drugs and alcohol at a very early age, and by the time he was in his late teens, he was addicted to methamphetamines. As an adult, Nic remains on good terms with his dad when he is sober, but their once-close relationship has been damaged by the stealing and lying that accompany Nic’s frequent drug use.

Even as he sinks back into substance abuse in San Francisco, Nic is haunted by his memories of sobriety. At one point back in LA, he had a good job at a treatment center in Malibu and was going on long bike rides in the mornings. Nic reflects on this idyllic lifestyle wistfully at times, aware that it is completely incompatible with his current methamphetamines and cocaine use. Even as they sink deeper into drug use, Nic and Lauren discuss their mutual desire to get clean many times; however, at the end of each day, they find themselves using drugs in Lauren’s basement room.

Nic continues to engage in self-destructive behavior until he has an unusually bad reaction to a high. Desperate for help, he contacts Spencer, his sponsor and main point of contact in the twelve-step program for substance abuse. Spencer tells Nic to get on a plane to Los Angeles so he can start going to meetings and working through the twelve-steps program again. Nic is initially resistant, but aware that he has no other treatment options, he ultimately agrees to use the last of his savings to fly to Los Angeles. Spencer picks Nic up from the airport and brings him back to his old apartment, which Spencer has kept vacant just in case Nic needs it again.

While in LA, Nic grows much stronger as he stays sober and spends time with Spencer, his wife Michelle, and their daughter Lucy. He regularly eats dinner with the family, and Michelle lands him a job at the salon where she works. Nic loves his job at the salon, and his coworkers adore...

(This entire section contains 1052 words.)

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him, eventually coming to see him as sort of a mascot for the salon. During this period of sobriety, Nic finds great pleasure in simple things like working, riding his bike, and drawing and writing in a little notebook he keeps close by.

When Spencer becomes seriously ill with meningitis, Nic is tasked with caring for Lucy while Spencer and Michelle are at the hospital. Nic has always been good with children—both at playing with them and understanding how they think—and he’s pleased by his ability to take care of Lucy. In this stretch of a few days spent babysitting, Nic enjoys the novel feeling that he is trusted, responsible, and part of a family.

Nic continues to make progress with his sobriety while living in LA. He is also able to spend some rare time with his mother, who works at a magazine and gets them tickets for a film screening. Both mother and son enjoy this time together as they eat, talk, and laugh. Nic’s mom is overjoyed to see him, but even so, she remains cautious and somewhat guarded, as she still remembers his last relapse clearly. 

Nic’s sober stretch continues until he contacts Zelda, a former girlfriend with whom he is completely obsessed. Zelda is recently divorced from her husband Mike, a minor celebrity, and when she and Nic become a couple, they also begin using drugs again. Because he does not have the Hollywood connections Zelda does, Nic spends most of his time with Zelda feeling inadequate. Chronically short of money, Nic and Zelda try to sell Zelda’s designer clothes and her left-over possessions from the time she was married to Mike to fund their drug use. Nic is only able to become sober again once he decides to leave Zelda, though he is very ill and frail by the time he finally makes it to detox.

As the book draws to a close, the reader is hopeful for Nic. He spends time at Safe Passage Center in Arizona where in addition to his drug addiction, his emotional trauma and bipolar disorder are diagnosed and treated for the first time. He begins to trust the therapists at the center, and his mother and father support him, even coming to participate in a family weekend at the center. 

In a 2008 afterword, Nic reveals that he had a brief relapse on some unspecified pills after Tweak was published, but he was able to get into treatment right away. He is currently sober and now lives with a friend in East Hollywood, where he attends an outpatient treatment program two days a week.