‘Beautiful Boy’ real-life father and son on addiction: ‘People who are addicted, they’re not out there having fun. They’re in pain.’

Rachel Grumman Bender

The film Beautiful Boy, starring Steve Carrell and Timothée Chalamet, tells the heartbreaking story of a father desperately trying to help his son, who is on the downward spiral of drug addiction.

The movie is based on two memoires: “Beautiful Boy” by father David Sheff, and “Tweak,” written by his son, Nic Sheff, who struggled with drug and alcohol addiction.

Like many families, no one thinks that their child will develop an addiction, and the Sheff family was no different.

“We were like so many families who thought this could never happen to us,” father David tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “You know, not my beautiful boy.”

Nic Sheff and father David Sheff promoting David’s memoir “Beautiful Boy” on February 26, 2008 in New York City. (Photo: Getty Images)
Nic Sheff and father David Sheff promoting David’s memoir “Beautiful Boy” on February 26, 2008 in New York City. (Photo: Getty Images)

To his family, Nic seemed like a great kid with a bright future. “I got good grades,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I was on the school newspaper. I was on the water polo team. I had won some writing awards. But inside is what really didn’t sort of connect with my external appearance.”

Adds David, “He was really good at showing us that he was the opposite. You know, he was doing great and he seemed fine. And it allowed us, I think, to ignore what was going on for a long time.”

When Nic first starting drinking and smoking pot, he says it gave him “a real sense of relief that I kept chasing basically from the moment that I started.” Once Nic started doing harder drugs that’s when his life “started to spiral out of control.”

He adds, “The moment that that drug hit me, I was instantly addicted to it. Every time I thought it couldn’t get worse, it did, and it just kept going further and further down.”

Nic started stealing from his parents and even his little brother and sister. He ended up getting kicked out of the house and was homeless. Nic did anything he could to get money for drugs, including sex work and robbing people. He also overdosed.

“I remember feeling like I was almost possessed,” says Nic, “and that feeling of being out of control was just so devastating.”

It was also painful for Nic’s family, who were incredibly worried for him. However, things started to change once Nic understood that addiction is a complex disease.

“Once I finally really conceded to myself that addiction is a disease — it’s a brain disease — and until I start treating it like a disease, then I could finally be open to say, ‘I need help.’”

Nic started working with a doctor and started a 12-step program. “Those were really the things that turned my life around,” Nic says. “Before I knew it, I remember waking up one day and, not only was the obsession to drink and use gone, but I also just felt happy. It’s a miracle. I never thought it would be possible.”

David and Nic wanted to share their story to help others. The movie is an extension of that desire — and hopefully, inspires these difficult conversations in other families. “It was an opportunity to talk about something that people don’t necessarily want to talk about,” says David.

As David notes, 200 people a day die of drug overdoses, and according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 22 million Americans ages 12 and older struggled with substance abuse in 2014.

“People who become addicted, they’re not out they’re having fun. They’re in pain,” says David. “And so instead of our judgment, they need and deserve our compassion.”

For Nic, his wish is that the movie conveys hope to others. “I just hope that when people come away from the film, they realize that people’s lives absolutely transform in sobriety,” he says, “and they end up being able to live the lives that they couldn’t have even dreamed of.”

If you or someone you know if struggling addiction, please seek help by calling the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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