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Author Nic Sheff Wants Teens To Know About The Perils Of Drug Use

Headshot of Nic Sheff
APB Speakers Bureau

Best-selling author Nic Sheff’s astonishing life story, about his struggle with methamphetamine addiction as a teen, is depicted in the movie Beautiful Boy. At the first Renown Health 2019 Community Speaker Seriesevent Wednesday night, he shared his story of recovery. KUNR reporter Anh Gray sat down with him at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts to learn about his new book, High: Everything You Want To Know About Drugs, Alcohol and Addiction. The book is geared towards empowering young people.

The major motion picture Beautiful Boy portrays what it was like for Sheff and his family as they fought to help him overcome his substance abuse. Sheff has been open about his experience with relapsing several times before remaining sober now for eight years.

He has co-authored the book High: Everything You Want To Know About Drugs, Alcohol and Addiction with his father, the writer David Sheff.

Nic Sheff explains that the new book is aimed at helping teens recognize the signs of substance abuse; it also provides resources on how to seek help. Sheff draws from his personal experiences experimenting with drugs and alcohol at an early age. Using pot, he said, initially helped him to cope with issues of anxiety and not feeling comfortable in his own skin.

“The thing that I didn’t know at the time is that when a young person has that kind of feeling with drugs and alcohol, that can be an indication that they will develop problems with substance abuse later on,” Sheff explained, “because the way that my brain processes drugs and alcohol is different from a normal person, and I just didn’t know that addiction as a disease was even a thing when I was growing up, so I couldn’t identify that behavior in myself.”

Mind-altering drugs can have varying effects on individual users. Scientists have found that drugs can alter important areas of the brain, leading to compulsive drug use and addiction. Sheff says that based on his brain chemistry, he became hooked on crystal methamphetamine—also referred to as crystal meth—after just one hit. He spent years addicted, trying to chase the same high again.

“Crystal meth is so destructive that when I started doing it, my behavior just became completely insane and erratic,” Sheff said, “and I started doing these things that I never thought that I would do.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes crystal meth as a highly addictive drug that affects the central nervous system. Sheff later learned that there were some underlying reasons he used drugs and alcohol--to self-medicate.

“I did have a dual diagnosis where I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in my mid-twenties and depression,” Sheff explained,” so working with a doctor and getting on the right psychiatric medication was hugely helpful.” He says he’s now finding healthful ways to treat his illness. “But as I continue to live in sobriety, I find that all these pieces of the puzzle that I didn’t know existed before, like I started surfing again and that’s been a piece or going on walks with my dog.”

Educating young people about addiction and the perils of drugs is now something Sheff passionately advocates for.

“Growing up, we’re taught that we need these substances in order to sort of socialize with each other and that in order to go to a party we need drink, or smoke pot or do something,” Sheff explained, “and there’s something really sad about that to me.”

What Sheff would like teens to know is that he understands despair, but experimenting with drugs and alcohol at an early age isn’t a viable solution.

“There’s something that’s a lot stronger and just kind of cooler I think about being able to have relationships with each other,” Sheff said, “and just not need drugs and alcohol as like a protection or like a sort of a pacifier.”

As more states, including Nevada, legalize marijuana, Sheff is concerned that it could send mixed-messages to teens that legalization equates safety. According to the American Psychological Association, research studieshave found that marijuana use can have long-term effects on the adolescent brain. Sheff also said that there are misconceptions that pot is not addictive.

“I’ve been in treatment centers with people who are only there for pot addiction,” Sheff explained. “This developing brain is really affected by pot in a way that an adult brain isn’t, so it’s especially dangerous for young people to smoke pot and think that there’s not going to be any consequences.”

Sheff wants people struggling with addiction to know that recovery and finding joy in living again is possible. After years of working to overcome substance abuse, he’s been able to maintain sobriety, but he remains vigilant. He continues to participate in the 12-Step program and seeks medical treatment for his bipolar and depression. He has come to accept his addiction as a lifelong disease, something that he had a difficult time understanding when he was younger. He describes his “beautiful life” now as “full and rich”, a reality that once seemed far-fetched when he was struggling with his addiction.

Anh Gray is a former contributing editor at KUNR Public Radio.
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