Tweak Themes

The main themes of Tweak include insecurities, denial and dishonesty, and the search for family.

  • Insidious insecurities: Because Nic's drug use is fueled by his insecurities, he must confront his feelings of self-loathing in order to maintain sobriety.
  • Denial and dishonesty: In the depths of his addiction, Nic is unable to be honest to himself or others about the severity of his substance abuse.
  • The search for family: Unable to cope with the pain associated with the breakup of his own family, Nic often unconsciously seeks out other family-like groups to feel a sense of belonging.

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Insidious Insecurities

Substance abuse is often the result of many complex factors, but central to Nic Sheff’s drug abuse is a sense of crippling insecurity that leaves him only when he is spectacularly high. Nic explains that he has always felt ugly, and throughout his life, he has tried to compensate for this with expensive clothes and careful grooming. This did little to improve his feelings of self-worth, however, and Nic spent much of his adolescence feeling worthless and expendable. With a mother who seemingly abandoned him after her divorce and a father who went on to remarry and have two more children, Nic often feels that he belongs to nothing and no one. To cope with the profound loneliness of his existence, he turns increasingly to the blissful escape provided by drugs and alcohol.

Nic’s loneliness and insecurities also color his interpersonal relationships. In his romantic relationships, Nic often tries—unsuccessfully—to replace the mother he lost and reclaim his childhood. Both Lauren and Zelda are too addicted to drugs to be emotionally available to Nic, yet he seeks security with them nevertheless, perhaps because he feels he deserves their coldness and distance. And though Nic respects the stable men in his life—like Spencer and his father—their successes often exacerbate Nic’s feelings of inadequacy. Nic admits that he is quite jealous of his father’s writing career, and he is likewise jealous of Spencer’s sobriety and seemingly perfect nuclear family. These resentments ultimately damage his relationships and push Nic into further isolation and drug use.

Denial and Dishonesty

As a longtime drug addict, Nic is well versed in denial and dishonesty. He refuses to acknowledge the pain caused by his parents’ divorce, and instead, he tries to escape this pain by using methamphetamines. As Nic’s addiction grows, so does his dishonest behavior: he steals checks from his father’s checkbook, credit cards from his father’s wallet, and even steals Ambien off the medicine cart at the treatment center in Malibu where he used to work.  

His relationship with Spencer is likewise marred by dishonesty and denial. Spencer emphasizes the need for brutal honesty when recovering from drug addiction, but Nic cannot admit that he is powerless over his addiction, a crucial first step toward recovery. In an attempt to evade accountability, Nic at one point even tries to replace Spencer as his sponsor because he knows that Spencer will enforce higher standards of honesty and commitment than his new sponsor, Voltaire, will. Nic’s thievery and dishonesty undermine most of his close personal relationships, but ultimately, the thing that hurts Nic most of all is his inability to be honest with himself. 

Nic is not the only one in Tweak who resists the truth: Zelda has a history of lying to her romantic partners, and Lauren is more than willing to engage in subterfuge where her parents are concerned. Even Nic’s mother and father struggle to admit the difficult truth that they both harmed Nic greatly by putting him in the middle of their contentious divorce, and it is not until they accept this truth that Nic really begins to respond to treatment at Safe Passage Center. 

While at the treatment center, Nic finally develops the ability to be brutally honest—about others, himself, and his addiction—and it is this honesty that allows Nic...

(The entire section is 1,114 words.)