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A Literary Response to a Son's Drug Addiction
May 11, 2009 7:49 AM   Subscribe

What is the best way to respond to your son's drug addiction?
Write a book? No!
Write two books? Yes?

Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction
Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines

Addiction - a father-son story
One of the unsettling themes in David Sheff's memoir, "Beautiful Boy," a wrenching tale about his son's drug addiction, is that even though Sheff was among what he calls the "first wave" of self-conscious parents who were hip enough to forge honest relationships with their kids, he was woefully unprepared for the vagaries of methamphetamine.
...
But David's then-teenage son Nic took a detour. Despite his cultured, well-to-do Marin County upbringing, during which he shared dinners with writers like Armistead Maupin, Nic developed a meth addiction that led to heroin use. By 22, he was emaciated and roaming the Tenderloin in search of a fix.
...
The latest unexpected turn: Last week, Sheff embarked on a national book tour with Nic, now 25, who's been sober for two years and lives in Savannah, Ga. The younger Sheff has his own memoir to promote, "Tweak: Growing up on Methamphetamines." After the father wrote about his son's slide in a November 2005 New York Times Magazine article, an editor from Simon & Schuster contacted Nic, who was then freelancing for the online magazine Nerve.
This NPR article has an audio interview with father and son and an extended excerpt from the father's book.
posted by andoatnp (35 comments total)

 
How many "I was a drunk - and so was my father, who you may have heard of" memoirs is Susan Cheever up to now? I lost count a while ago.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:52 AM on May 11, 2009


False equivalency, no? One author is a parent who can't handle her child's addiction to pot, while the other author details his struggle with his son's meth addiction. Pot isn't really the same as meth.
posted by billysumday at 7:57 AM on May 11, 2009


This whole thing reads like a marketing case study in how to turn upper middle-class crises into exhibitionist career-boosting publicity.
posted by aught at 7:57 AM on May 11, 2009 [20 favorites]


Another person cashing in on their famous addiction, offering a glimpse into decadence while affirming conventional mores. How interesting.
posted by delmoi at 7:58 AM on May 11, 2009 [7 favorites]


The difference between this case and the Julie Myerson one:

1. The son's OK with it this time around.
2. Saying 'Addiction' and 'Meth' in the same sentence isn't laughable.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:58 AM on May 11, 2009 [6 favorites]


father and son are both addicted to a theme, junkies of the same inspiration.
simon and schuster only make the problem worse by enabling the two.
posted by the aloha at 8:32 AM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I picked up Tweak the other day and found it poorly edited, for lack of a better word. It was as if nobody ran a spell-check. Sure, I could chalk it up to "style", but there's a fine line between style and negligence.

The most irritating part was the ad in the back for Go Ask Alice.
posted by knile at 8:36 AM on May 11, 2009


Meth is no joke. I had some experience with it (was friends with a lot of tweakers, via the club scene) and while most people I knew who used it (even people who I thought at the time had problems) seem to have come out of it okay, a fairly significant percentage had their lives completely turned upside down -- unemployment, health problems, etc.

I managed to only dabble with it, and I had some fun weekends (and some not so fun weekends), but I found the come-down so miserable that I stopped using it and eventually stopped hanging around people that used it (getting older and having a full time job that I actually cared about losing was a big part of this).

That said, amphetamines as prescription drugs are pretty much part of the fabric of society now, and aren't going away any time soon. It's all about dose and context. In low doses, in a work or school context, they're pretty useful chemicals. In high doses, in a party context, they can be pretty dangerous. I'm not sure how we as a society should treat speed.
posted by empath at 8:37 AM on May 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


What is the best way to respond to your son's drug addiction? Write a book? No! Write two books? Yes?

Actually ... What is the best way to respond to your son's drug addiction? You write one book; your son writes another.
posted by ericb at 8:39 AM on May 11, 2009


Yeah, that tripped me up too. It sounded like people were accusing "Tweak" of being a fake by Nic's dad, which woulda been a pretty fun clusterfuck.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:19 AM on May 11, 2009


If you want to read a great book about meth, check out No Speed Limit by Frank Owen.
posted by mattbucher at 9:20 AM on May 11, 2009


Three books! From the Grandfather: Get off Meth/Grass.
posted by hal9k at 10:19 AM on May 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


I think the difference with this parent/child book deal is that it seems significantly less exploitative. That was what really bothered me about the Lost Child fiasco, beyond the whole reefer-madness tone it had; the author in that situation was stooping to a level of exploitation that I previously thought was reserved only for child pornographers.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:32 AM on May 11, 2009


I had my time with meth. Never ended up getting ruined by it, but it did screw up some friends for a while. Now I take it by prescription - Adderall for ADD. It works, and it's a combination of four different amphetamines (two major types), of course much cleaner and better than anything on the street, but it's basically the same active ingredient as street meth. There is some utility to it, but recreational doses are much higher than prescribed doses.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:46 AM on May 11, 2009


Just as an aside, Adderall does not contain methamphetamines.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:06 AM on May 11, 2009


There is some utility to it, but recreational doses are much higher than prescribed doses.

Sure, for certain values of much higher. 80-100mg will send an amphetamine naive person pretty high, and prescribed doses can easily be 30-60mg a day.
posted by Justinian at 11:06 AM on May 11, 2009


Just as an aside, Adderall does not contain methamphetamines.

No, it contains a mixture of amphetamine salts. The idea that this makes a huge difference is mostly put out there only because people don't want to think they're giving little Johnny or little Mary that horrible demon speed. But the primary difference is really just that it takes somewhat more Adderall to have the same effect as methamphetamine. (yes, yes the meth is absorbed slightly faster as well for a given ingestion method, but all that means is... oh never mind).
posted by Justinian at 11:10 AM on May 11, 2009


Just as an aside, Adderall does not contain methamphetamines.

I did not say that it did.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:10 AM on May 11, 2009


The stories told in so many of these confessionals is so upsetting to me that I simply am not going to accuse the various writers of trying to cash in on their addiction or that of their children. The books may make some money (hey good clinics are super expensive), or they may help to unload a burden. Finally, it is useful to know that there is a serious problem out there and that in itself might get us to be a bit more concerned and human.
posted by Postroad at 11:11 AM on May 11, 2009


Finally, it is useful to know that there is a serious problem out there and that in itself might get us to be a bit more concerned and human.

I was speaking with my sister and brother in law yesterday. They're both probation officers, used to work with kids, now work with adults. They both feel our governor (Richardson) is too liberal, and all the treatment programs are just coddling the criminals, who I gather from their words should be punished or they won't seek a better way. I kept my mouth shut, because we're supposed to avoid politics for these family get-togethers (though I guess they think it's OK). But they do work on the policing end of the incarceration end of the criminal justice system. I don't necessarily think it's a great idea to take policy directives from people on that level, because they're dealing with issues which can't be easily solved once someone ends up on probation. That's getting the tail end of the problem, and we need to start at the beginning.

We need more than just state-sponsored treatment - it's a start, but it's not adequate as it is for the problems people are having who end up in jail on a drug charge, although it's the right direction. We need better mental health facilities as a facet of decent socialized health care for everyone, better education with funding entirely federalized and distributed equally, better community support programs, etc. You know, the difficult answers which take a long time and a lot of work, answers nobody wants to hear. And we need to stop throwing people with addiction problems in jail if possession or dealing is the extent of the charges, and we do need to legalize marijuana ASAP and stop putting those people in jail altogether.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:07 PM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Great book! I lived in West Marin for quite some time. There's a lot of meth use in this sleepy little town.
posted by Metachel at 12:17 PM on May 11, 2009


This reminds me of something Shane MacGowan said: the difference between a smack addict and a alcoholic is when you give them heroin or whisky respectively. The junkie can get on with his or her day, the alcoholic can't function with or without alcohol.

My limited experience with meth makes me think it's more like h than booze in this respect (although I'd appreciate being corrected if I'm wrong).
posted by Samuel Farrow at 12:24 PM on May 11, 2009


The insidious thing about meth is that not only can you function on it, but you can function better on it than you can sober. Up to a point. Then you're taking it just to be able to function at all. And then you're a complete disaster. And different people progress along that path at different rates. And it's hard to tell where you are on that path until you probably went too far.
posted by empath at 1:29 PM on May 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


simon and schuster only make the problem worse by enabling the two.

Yes, how dare publishers want to publish first-hand accounts by people who have had challenging life experiences. Vultures, all of them.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:38 PM on May 11, 2009


Samuel, it's more complicated than that: some heroin addicts will get on with their days, some will take so much that they will be too wasted to do anything. Some meth addicts can be extraordinarily productive, as indeed can be some alcoholics (though the meth people are getting a cognitive boost from low doses of the drug while the alcoholics are handicapping themselves).

The father's book has sold much better than the son's-- I'm not sure if this is because it is much better written (which is apparently and not surprisingly the case, as he is a professional writer) or because the son comes across as behaving so badly that he doesn't engage the reader.
posted by Maias at 2:14 PM on May 11, 2009


"My limited experience with meth makes me think it's more like h than booze in this respect (although I'd appreciate being corrected if I'm wrong)."

Not exactly. A lot of people who abuse and/or are addicted to meth don't use it continuously or in a regimented manner. They binge for several days without sleep, sometimes a week or two, and then crash for several days. A lot of people with serious dependency issues are also using other drugs, including heroin, because it takes the edge off. Getting off it is not all that hard as far as dealing with the physical dependence, which might last a couple weeks at most. What's harder is the psychological dependence, which also often happens with people using Adderall for ADD; you think you need it to function well, and that may be true to an extent, but it can be limiting.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:20 PM on May 11, 2009


previously....
posted by gingerbeer at 2:55 PM on May 11, 2009


What's harder is the psychological dependence

I think the social aspects are probably the hardest to deal with, once you've gotten yourself involved with people that use it regularly. You basically have to get all new friends, and that's not easy for a lot of people to do.
posted by empath at 3:41 PM on May 11, 2009


I don't necessarily think it's a great idea to take policy directives from people on that level, because they're dealing with issues which can't be easily solved once someone ends up on probation. That's getting the tail end of the problem, and we need to start at the beginning.

We need more than just state-sponsored treatment


Shutting down the supply of high quality meth and precursors to high potency meth has actually worked before. Getting tough on addicts? How about the top of the pyramid?

The TV version of the Oregonian's big meth investigation found (Frontline? Yep it was Frontline) that when street meth increased in potency, so did the number of addicts showing up for treatment.

Yet we hassle seasonal allergy sufferers so it's harder to make small quantities of shitty meth.
posted by morganw at 4:44 PM on May 11, 2009


The father's book has sold much better than the son's-- I'm not sure if this is because it is much better written (which is apparently and not surprisingly the case, as he is a professional writer) or because the son comes across as behaving so badly that he doesn't engage the reader.

I read both. Tweak is very badly written, and the son had been sober such a short time when he wrote it that I just didn't buy, at the end, that he was "really sober and had learned his lesson now," after all the relapses he'd had before. It felt like a premature book.

I just read No Speed Limit: The Highs and Lows of Meth by Frank Owen and recommend it.
posted by not that girl at 7:47 PM on May 11, 2009


I've read the father's book, and I have the son's book on order.

This is something of a spoiler, but David Sheff, the father, spends a great deal of time talking about the (truly awful) circumstances of his son's addiction, and there's a great deal of "why oh why did this happen to my family, which I thought was perfect?".

And then toward the end he goes into intensive therapy and begins, he tells us, to understand that he himself has feelings of guilt and shame, that he might have contributed to his son's problems, and that his family relationships might not be as sunny as he's depicted them ... but there the book ends. We don't get to hear about that stuff, which presumably goes some way to answering the breast-beating "why oh why" questions. I found it very frustrating.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 8:30 PM on May 11, 2009


But David's then-teenage son Nic took a detour. Despite his cultured, well-to-do Marin County upbringing, during which he shared dinners with writers like Armistead Maupin, Nic developed a meth addiction that led to heroin use. By 22, he was emaciated and roaming the Tenderloin in search of a fix.

I'm not sure that qualifies as much of a noteworthy story in "well to do" Marin Co. There is a lot of meth in those small towns (and a lot of trust funds with which to purchase said meth).

I'm getting a little bored with all the drug addiction-porn out there myself.
posted by fshgrl at 8:30 PM on May 11, 2009


Meth is simply horrible. Horrible.
posted by telstar at 8:35 PM on May 11, 2009


I love that distribution through Starbucks is thrown out there as a likely indicator of quality.
posted by No-sword at 3:03 AM on May 12, 2009


These books seem simultaneously exploitative and too boring to sell. Who hasn't known an addict or three? The story doesn't change much. It's like a kid's Choose Your Own Adventure book: does the main character choose A or B on page 72? If A, go to page 73; if B, to page 90.
posted by notashroom at 1:48 PM on May 12, 2009


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