Author Nic Sheff smiles atop a mountain in a black baseball cap reading "Dockweiler Surf Club" and blue open jacket

'Beautiful Boy' brings his story to ASU behavioral health conference

When Nic Sheff was 11 years old, he began drinking vodka. A year later he was using marijuana, soon joined by acid, ecstasy, mushrooms and cocaine. By the time he was 18, crystal meth was his drug of choice as everything spiraled out of control.

“When I was using, I had this philosophy that, well, if I wanted to kill myself with drugs, that was my business,” said Sheff, now 37. “I felt like I lived in a vacuum. Like I was the one in all this pain, so I should be able to decide whether to blot it all out with drugs or not. I had no idea whatsoever the extent of pain I was causing my family and the people that loved me.”

His compelling story of addiction, relapse and recovery inspired both his father's memoir, "Beautiful Boy," and the 2018 Felix van Groeningen film of the same name. And in July, Sheff will recount his painful addiction experiences as keynote speaker at the Summer Institute, hosted by the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy at Arizona State University.

Nearly 400 national and local leaders, educators, researchers, counselors and behavioral health professionals will take part in the 20th annual conference held July 16-19 in Flagstaff, Arizona. The four-day event provides networking opportunities and education, part of the center's commitment to building more resilient and healthier communities.

Sheff will speak the morning of July 16, sharing his insights into recovery, including how it affects the addict and others. His personal account about dealing with addiction, combined with his bipolar disorder, builds to his inspiring breakthrough to sobriety and its maintenance. He offers a compassionate and contemporary viewpoint, with a understanding of chemical dependency, risk factors, the isolation people who use drugs experience and the resulting trauma, pain and survival. 

He says he believes that helping people with recovery is like “putting together the puzzle” concerning the issues surrounding addiction. “We all have this one moment: NOW!” Sheff wrote in "Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines" (2007). “Now is now. There is nothing but now … this, right here, is all there is. So, my challenge is to be authentic. And I believe I am, today. I believe I am.” 

"Tweak" utilized the extensive journals Sheff kept as a teenager and, along with his father's 2008 book "Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction," inspired van Groeningen's film starring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet.

Sheff collaborated with his father, David, for the book, "High: Everything You Want to Know about Drugs, Alcohol, and Addiction," published in January 2019. This handbook serves as a resource for middle school readers to learn about the realities of drugs and alcohol. It addresses what drugs look like, how they are used, what they are called and their side effects. It also draws on the experiences of the New York Times best-selling father/son team to teach how to recognize drug behavior, how to understand it and what can be done to overcome it. The book features candid testimonials from those who have experienced substance abuse and from families who have lived through the addiction of a loved one.

Sheff’s poignant perspective is a timely addition to the center's Summer Institute, given the increasing pressures facing behavioral health professionals amidst the current opioid epidemic. For more about the conference, visit ASUSummerInstitute.org. The center is a unit of ASU’s Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions

Written by Deon Brown, ASU Class of ’85