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What the “Beautiful Boy” Movie Left Out (And Families Facing Addiction Need to Know)

I’m a big fan of David Sheff’s book “Beautiful Boy” and was excited to finally come up for air after the holidays and watch the movie. While I don’t have an addicted family member, I’ve worked with many parents who do, and I couldn’t help imagining what they’d feel as they watched.

The message seemed to be: Nic Sheff was a beautiful, perfect boy overtaken by the monster of drug addiction. How he found his way back? That was left unexplored, and a very significant part of the narrative that could have engendered hope was left out.

So I wanted to highlight that missing part of the story for all the families struggling out there.Nic Sheff has written extensively about his experiences in several books including his memoir “Tweak” and on the website The Fix. While he studiously avoids offering prescriptions to others, his writing can be helpful diagnostically. At least, it can open up lines of inquiry.

One of those lines is about the connection between mental illness and addiction. Nic Sheff talked about how he resisted being labeled as bipolar when a psychiatrist first brought up that diagnosis in 2003. He writes how crystal meth and heroin seemed more palatable to him that Lithium and Prozac.

That sort of resistance is common, that people are often extremely frightened by the idea of a lifelong label or lifelong psychotropic medications. But the alternative for person who is suffering and turns to drugs to ease that suffering can be unspeakable.

Sometimes parents also go into a form of denial. They want to whitewash the past, believe that their child was once perfect and that drugs took over, while the reality might be more complicated. That child might have been struggling with pain already and concealing it, thinking their parent wasn’t ready to see them as less than perfect.

This was a theme in the movie–Nic not wanting to let his parents down because they were close–but what wasn’t a theme was that Nic experienced mood swings (what was later called rapid cycled mixed states) for years, that much of hisĀ  darkness was chemical in nature and would have been responsive to medication.

As parents, we can’t collude with the denial, resistance, and shame; we have to accept our children for all they are and make it safe for them to reveal their suffering. We have to make sure they get the right kind of help.

The reason I say “we” even though I haven’t yet been impacted personally is because I have a seven-year-old. I don’t know what her future holds. But I have to be prepared. I have to be willing to face potentially frightening truths so that she can, too.

While I haven’t blogged in a long time and it’s likely I’ll be discontinuing this blog due to time and energy constrains, I felt moved to write this. With education comes hope.

There’s a great blog post with more information, and some excellent links:

And in terms of prevention, and the idea that forewarned is forearmed, I was happy to see that David Sheff and Nic Sheff have written a new book that came out today aimed at kids ages 10 – 14 (a critical time in the development of substance abuse):

Wishing all the best for you and your family.

What the “Beautiful Boy” Movie Left Out (And Families Facing Addiction Need to Know)

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2019). What the “Beautiful Boy” Movie Left Out (And Families Facing Addiction Need to Know). Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 Jan 2019
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