Thursday, January 22, 2009

beautiful boy, ugly drug

I finished this book last night. I can't recommend it highly enough to parents. I plan to encourage my teenagers to read it. It's a memoir, written by a father, David Sheff, whose family is coping with their son's addiction to methamphetamine.

Before reading, I had a basic but inadequate knowledge of meth. I had attended a substance abuse conference, but this was years ago, when meth was largely an urban street drug, before it had exploded in rural and suburban America. I had treated individuals who reported a history of using meth, but no acknowledged addicts or current users. That I knew of. After reading this account, I'm close to convinced that a perplexing patient or two were actively using.

I had seen Oprah's depiction of suburban moms addicted to meth but stereotypes die a slow death. I still viewed this drug as a low income affliction, not something my kids would be at risk to use. I had heard first hand accounts of how prevalent meth use was in very rural areas, such as small towns in Wyoming and Montana. Again, not my kids.

This book is a wake up call to parents. All parents. That means me, too. It's about a family I could identify with. A boy with loving, supportive, nurturing parents. A boy whose intellect, creativity, and sparkling personality showed all the signs of a bright future.

Sheff tells us about the private schools carefully selected to advance his son Nic's academic career. Nic's attendance at a study program in Paris. His acceptance at numerous prestigious universities. His attendance at U.C. Berkley.

Nic first tried marijuana and alcohol at age 12, younger than my son is now. His parents' response seemed reasoned and appropriate. Like how I imagined I would handle it. Nic's escalation into "the hard stuff" was unlikely and shocking. Once in the grip, the Sheff family found themselves in the midst of a harrowing nightmare.
Sheff gives us a moment by moment account. His personal reflections, fears, uncertainties, shock, and despair. He wrenchingly questions his parenting decisions, wondering "What did I do?" and "What could I have done differently?"
He interviews leading university researchers and shares his acquired knowledge. It's a quick study on the ravages of meth and recovery strategies. So, for me it serves a personal and a professional function.

In 2005 David Sheff first wrote an article for the New York Times describing his son's ongoing addiction. You can read it on Sheff's website, here or at the NYT, here. He later published this memoir, Beautiful Boy, an expanded version. A book review in the NY Times can be read here and here.

The most common street names for crystal meth are ice and glass. Here are some others:

Batu.....Blade.....Cristy.....Crystal.....Hoo.....Hot ice.....Ice cream.....Icee.....L.A. glass.....L.A. ice.....Quartz.....Shabu..... Shards.....Stove top.....Sugar.....Super ice.....Teena or Tina.....White crunch.... An even longer list can be found, here.

You can view David and Nic Sheff on Oprah, here. Nic has written a book called, Tweak, which I plan to read next.

Oddly enough, I had sat down with my kids about a week prior to my friend lending me this book. I said "We're going to have a talk about sex and drugs." They immediately belly ached, "Aww, Mom! We know all about that stuff."

No. They didn't.

Neither did I.


Rachel Cotterill said...

I've never heard of this drug, I don't know if we have it here (or if I'm just not in touch with that kind of thing at all), but the book sounds interesting. All I really know about drugs is "don't" which has been enough for me!

blognut said...

I've had this book in my hand at least a dozen times and I keep telling myself it doesn't apply... all the while knowing that it could someday, and also knowing that with 2 teenagers and a 9 year old, I'm fortunate that it doesn't right now.

Thanks for the reminder, I'll add this to the list.

Unknown said...

I've read it too and it left me scared thinking i don't know how to prevent my kid from doing the same thing. If Nic, who seemed to have all the opportunity and love int eh world could become an addict, how can I sure my son won;t?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for recommending this book.


Agent X said...

I too have thought about picking this book up many times but almost fear reading it. I tend to personalize too much and would only see my son (who true is just 4) in the story. Based on your post, I might just face my fear and pick it up.

Mary said...

It was important to read this as my eldest starts high school.

You hope it will never happen but you cannot assume anything...

Lisa Wheeler Milton said...

I watched it ravage a small town, what, 15 years ago. I never thought it would happen in such a community, but there it was.

My friend had kids and every day, kids showed up from all over, wanting lunch because both parents - still working in most cases, but tweakers - would simply stop feeding their kids.

The system was overwhelmed; crime went up and schools opened for lunch the next summer, meager food for neglected kids.

It was everywhere.

I think some of the campaign against it has been successful, but I plan to tell my kids about it again & again. Tons of girls try it to lose weight. Scares me to death.

I'm going to look at getting those titles, right now.

shrink on the couch said...

rachel -- Don't is a good plan. My kids are all on the don't plan right now and I hope it sticks. But the teen years are so uncertain. In only takes one time.

blognut -- That's how I had been feeling, exactly. It doesn't apply. Now I know that it absolutely could apply.

becca -- yes, that is what resonated with me. I identified with so many of this dad's beliefs and practices. I felt so vulnerable reading this.

fringegirl -- welcome.

agent x -- you'd certainly be ahead of the curve.

bluemary -- I too felt confident. Reading this led me to feel inadequate and unprepared and scared as sh#t.

lisa -- the losing weight motive is really scary. I hadn't thought of that. Run of the mill amphetamines, yes. Meth? OMG.

GoteeMan said...

wow... yeah, there are tons of meth-heads in TN... seems like every week there's a bust of a meth house somewhere in town. thanks for posting this... so many are unaware of what it can do - so lethally addictive that a single time can make it nearly impossible to not repeat - slowly draining the life out of those who use it.

Let's keep our kids meth free.
J/ (

shrink on the couch said...

Goteeman -- yes, please. please. please.

Margo said...

I heard about this book a while back. Part of me wants to avoid it, just because the concept is so frightening... I guess I like holding on to my belief that this couldn't happen in my family. I'm curious to watch the Oprah segment. A friend told me that it was kind of awkward for the son, and that the experience spurred him on to write his own account.

planet trans said...

This is a great blog. Tell you children you love them. Often. Talk to them about drugs. Often. I've been clean and sober for almost 30 years and I still go to na and aa meetings. As long as my sobriety has be it is only a arm reach away from lost. Love, kelli

e.beck.artist said...

i'm going to get the book ... but i wonder if i can get myself to read it ... seems hard!

Deb said...

Thank you for this post. It is something we don't want to think about, yet it is important.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I loved that book and reviewed it on my blog. I just finished Nic's book "Tweak." You MUST read it.

His perspective of his upbringing is completely different than that of his parents. He doesn't blame them at all, but both his Mother and Father made some extremely selfish choices when Nic was growing up. David outlines some of it, but Nic's book really makes it hit home. It really pisses me off when the grownups choose not to act like grownups.

That said, you're right, meth is a threat to all of our kids.

JCK said...

It sounds like a powerful book.

Sunny said...

I've never heard of this book. I'm definitely going to read it. Thanks for a tip

Vodka Mom said...

I have an old friend whose law career and LIFE have been ruined by that shit.

damn that meth.

Ash said...

Thanks for the rec. Mine are 6 and almost 3, but this thought seriously keeps me up at night.

So many demons.

Reinvent Dad said...

Thank you so much for the recommendation. Often times, we parents are so concerned with discussing sex with our children that we over luck the serious implications of drug use. I remember seeing that book a couple times at Starbucks and wondering if it would be a useful read.

CC said...

It is so scary. I am so scared. For my kids. For my self. Addiction is a nasty, ugly thing.

bernthis said...

my mother is an addiction counselor and when my ex relapsed after 17 years, I was in total denial and yet I had so much knowledge b/c of her. So scary.

shrink on the couch said...

margo -- I understand the avoidance. With me, it's also ambivalence about ending my kids' innocence. But the more I read, the more I think it's are to to introduce the conversation too early.

kelli -- thanks for the encouragement and congratulations to you -- 30 years! what a hard earned accomplishment!

ebeckartist -- had same reluctance, but it's quite an engaging read right from the start. it becomes more about caring for this family than it does about drugs. scary drugs info is a close second, though.

deb -- you're welcome.

jenn -- going to read your review next. and yes, I am very interested in Tweak. Throughout BB, I wondered about Nic's first hand account. I think divorce and house hopping is stressful. Add stepfamilies and the stress goes significantly up.

jck -- powerful from page 1 until the last page.

sunny -- you're welcome. I hadn't heard of it until my friend brought it over.

vodka -- ya hear too many cases where high income crashes down, and it often starts with cocaine.

eudea -- demons is exactly right.

reinvent -- I love an engaging memoir, but even better when I learn something valuable that directly applies to my life. In this case, kids and my profession.

cc -- I can't say I felt less scared after reading this, but I felt empowered to educate my kids. No more letting it slide.

bernthis -- 17 years of sobriety is such a sad thing to let go of. I hope he found strength to get sober again.

Madge said...

I'm going to read this book. thanks for the recommendation. i have loved addicts and it's hard. think that's why i haven't been able to bring myself to read it.... but i need to, as a mom.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read it and probably won't. Not because I am squeamish about such things or panic - just because I don't generally read accounts of things like these. I'm not sure why - I suppose their value is limited when you are not sure of the full story. I don't read self-help type books either. I do wonder if rather than helping, they contribute to the anxiety culture so many people seem to inhabit. Not you. But many people. Irrational anxiety leads to its own problems.

I must confess I always assume my children would not do drugs. That is probably naive but hopefully true. I do keep a pretty close eye on them and because they swim and have to be top notch fit I think I would notice if they started to smoke or do drugs. I have had one go safely through the teens and out the other side - I just hope the next three do the same.

Maggie May said...

i read that article in NYT and half read the wonderfully written book. it's scary, as a parent. we do the best we can.

flutter said...

Oof. this sounds like it would kick my ass.

Anonymous said...

Meth, here in Australia is generally known as Ice and is a big problem. My daughter is now 19, and I think fairly comfortable with who she is and hopefully strong enough to say no. The more we know about the available drugs and the more we know about teenagers as a whole the more able we are to be there for our own children and hopefully stop them before they start. I wrote a post on my blog: a while ago about teenage self esteem in relation to life purpose, self esteem and depression.

shrink on the couch said...

madge -- so you have a very personal recall here. It's understandable you'd want to avoid.

rb -- I can absolutely relate with my kids. And I agree with the culture of anxiety, too much worry about things that are unlikely to affect us. I think this book, for me, brought home that the risk is out there for all of us and I had underestimated it. I no longer feel assured. Or, I didn't realize how lacking in confidence I was before this, and am relieved to be fortified with information that I can help my kids know that "no matter what, no matter what anyone says about it, don't try this drug."

maggiemay -- "we do all we can" reminds me of a thought I had about this book. I wish Sheff had enumerated more concretely what kinds of drug talks he had with his son.

flutter -- I definately took an ass-kicking, yes.

brigit -- I found myself wondering whether this is only a huge, growing problem in the U.S., so you have answered my question.

KCB said...

Putting this in the request list. I'd never heard of this book or the son's book, either.

Unknown said...

I’ve never seen anything so devastating as meth.
It destroys the mind as well as the body in an incredible way.
I don’t wish anybody and anybody’s child to suffer the consequences of meth addiction.
Thank you for the book recomandation!

AnnD said...

I have had no training in substance abuse! If substance use becomes a problem for my clients, I have to refer them to someone else. It happened this past week, as a matter of fact. It would definitely "be practicing outside of the scope of my ability" as they said in my ethics class. I do need to learn more about it...I'll have to add those books to my Shelfari "Plan to Read" shelf so I don't forget them!

the therapist said...

Yes, certainly, it's a horrible drug and yet, in dealing with teenagers, when you prohibit something it becomes far more interesting. Knowledge and awareness are far more preferable.

Stacie said...

this is going to be a must have...i'm scared for my kids.

Hip Mom's Guide said...

DITTO!! I read this book last year and was in tears by the end of the first chapter. As the reader and a parent, you can't help but think, "What if..." It's such a horrible, sad story. I read Tweak, also, and strongly recommend that you read both. Nic gives a slightly different picture, because it's his experience and his perspective. At times it's incredibly painful to read. I took it on vacation this fall and was, again, sobbing, this time pool-side. I recommend reading this one at HOME. :)

Anonymous said...

I've heard of the drug...but had no idea of all its other names. Every bit of this information is important. Crucial. Thank you.

dkuroiwa said...

Thanks so much for the 'osusume' (advice)...though here in Japan, drugs are a waaay harder to come buy, they are starting to filter in. I'm going to pass on the title to my hometown, a small town with very little to offer younger people, has become quite the 'meth producing' nephews are in high school and i'm thinking that our whole family needs to read this.
thanks again...i value your opinions so much in things like this.
have a good weekend.

Nora said...

I heard this author speak on NPR, it was quite moving and difficult to hear. But important.

Fantastic Forrest said...

I heard an interview with these two on NPR not too long ago. So heartbreaking. I know I should read their books, but have been putting it off. I do try to talk to my kids about this - don't want to put THAT off.