High: Everything You Want to Know About Drugs, Alcohol, and Addiction

High: Everything You Want to Know About Drugs, Alcohol, and Addiction

by David Sheff, Nic Sheff


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“All parents should have this book on hand, and use it to open important dialogues with their kids. Arm them with knowledge.” Ellen Hopkins, best-selling author of the Crank trilogy.

Just Say Know! With drug education for children more important than ever, this nonfiction book draws on the experiences of the New York Times bestselling father/son team and inspiration behind the film Beautiful Boy David and Nic Sheff to provide all the information teens need to know about drugs, alcohol, and addiction.

From David Sheff, author of Beautiful Boy (2008), and Nic Sheff, author of Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines (2008), comes the ultimate resource for learning about the realities of drugs and alcohol for middle grade readers.

This book tells it as it is, with testimonials from peers who have been there and families who have lived through the addiction of a loved one, along with the cold, hard facts about what drugs and alcohol do to our bodies. From how to navigate peer pressure to outlets for stress to the potential consequences of experimenting, Nic and David Sheff lay out the facts so that middle grade readers can educate themselves.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780544644342
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 01/08/2019
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 110,374
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 10 - 18 Years

About the Author

Nic Sheff is the author of Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines and We All Fall Down: Living with Addiction. Visit Twitter @nic_sheff.

David Sheff is the author of the New York Times bestseller Beautiful Boy. His reporting on addiction earned him a place on Time's list of the World's Most Influential People. Visit DavidSheff.com and Twitter @david_sheff.

Read an Excerpt


Nic’s Story and Why We Wrote This Book

When you’re an addict, you can go without feeling anything except drunk or stoned or hungry. Still, when you compare this to other feelings—to sadness, anger, fear, worry, despair, and depression, well, an addiction no longer looks so bad. It looks like a very viable option.


When I was growing up in San Francisco, it felt like everyone smoked pot. They smoked it walking down the street. They smoked it at school. Some of my parents’ friends even smoked. So when I was twelve and one of my friends offered to “smoke me out,” it felt like no big deal.
     We walked down to the park behind the soccer field. My friend passed the pipe to me, and I hit it without really thinking. Almost instantly—pretty much as soon as the drug hit me—I felt a sense of relief.
     I think that relief came because pot helped blunt a feeling I’d had my whole life that something was wrong with me. On the outside, everything looked good. I was popular and did well in school. But inside, I was scared and insecure and totally uncomfortable in my own skin. I walked through life like I wore my nerves on the outside of my body. Everything was too much to handle, and the world seemed overwhelming and abrasive. I’d look in the mirror, and the image looking back struck me as ugly, weak, and pathetic.
     Smoking pot changed that. When I smoked, I felt confident and strong. I could slip out of my bubble of insecurity and go to parties, talk to girls. Pot helped me see a different person in the mirror. It helped me turn off the negative voices in my head, stop worrying, and just have fun.
     Pot made me feel free—at first. But soon it began to have the opposite effect. It stopped giving me that confidence. Stopped making me feel light and fun and strong. The more pot I smoked, the harder it became to catch hold of those positive sensations, and the more depressed I got when I was straight.
     I’d heard all those warnings about pot affecting brain development and all that, but I thought it was a scare tactic. But looking back, I realized I spent so much of high school and college high, that I missed a lot of what normally happens during those years. It’s when I should have learned how to adapt to change, how to handle difficult emotions, how to fail, be rejected, deal with all the normal pressures of adolescent life.
     Because I was always smoking pot, I never faced any of those things. I never learned how to be a real, functioning person, how to just cope. When things got too intense, I got high to escape. And when I wasn’t high, I was so deeply depressed I couldn’t even get out of bed.
     Eventually, no matter how much pot I smoked, it basically stopped affecting me at all. It didn’t take away the pain and fear like it once had. It just made me dull and paranoid.


At that point, I decided to seek out harder drugs. And it was definitely a conscious choice. I was desperate to find something that gave me the same sense of relief pot had once given me. I felt like I couldn’t exist without drugs.
     I tried everything—hallucinogens, prescription drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin, ecstasy, cocaine. I kept chasing that more confident and strong version of myself who felt less alone. Sometimes the drugs would work for a while, but then the feeling would slip away again. It wasn’t until I tried crystal meth that I thought I’d finally found “the one.”
     Now, thanks mostly to Breaking Bad—a TV show about a high school chemistry teacher who became a meth cook—everybody’s heard of crystal meth and knows how dangerous it is. But back in the late nineties, when I first did it, I had never heard of it. So, when my friend offered me some speed (also known as meth), I took it without thinking.
     As soon as that drug hit me, I felt a rush of elation—not just from the drug, but from feeling like this was what I’d been looking for my whole life. It was better than those first hits of pot, better than everything. I felt super confident, super strong. I felt like a real-life superhero. Just like that, I was addicted.
     Once I started doing crystal meth, my life spiraled out of control in a flash. Meth made me arrogant, crazy, and fixated on more, more, more. I was like an animal, reduced to one need: to get high. Nothing else mattered. I broke in to houses, stole money. I even stole from my little brother’s piggy bank.
     My parents kicked me out of the house. I ended up homeless, living in a park in San Francisco. I ate out of garbage cans, got food from soup kitchens. I did things I’d never imagined doing to get money. And I kept using. I couldn’t stop.
     Until I had a really bad scare. I woke up in the hospital with a tube down my throat, having been on life support after an overdose. Terrified, I went into rehab and managed to stay sober for a year and a half.
     Only, I had never learned how to live sober. I was a complete emotional mess. The one thing that maybe saved my life is that I wrote. I come from a family of writers and have written ever since I was little. Even strung out and living on the streets, I wrote. I’d cram into the back of some burned-out car with other kids and stay up all night, writing in my notebook while they slept, trying to get my story down, to make sense of the chaos of my life.
     I wrote when I was sober, too, and miraculously, I connected with this editor at a publishing house who felt I had a story to tell. I’d write chapters, and she’d like them and ask for more. Eventually, I got a book deal.
     At the time, it felt to me that writing a book would make my whole life worthwhile. So I finished about half of it, and I received a small chunk of money that felt like a huge chunk of money. I felt on top of things for the first time in forever.


I’d been sober for about eighteen months when I got involved with this older woman I’d known from being in treatment with her. She was super beautiful and super cool, the ex-wife of a famous actor. I felt that if she could love and want me, it had to mean I was worth something.
     My entire identity became wrapped up in my book and in my girlfriend. Of course, it turned out she was using again and lying to everyone about being sober. She smoked crack, so I started smoking crack too. I felt like I had to, so we could be together. Like it had to be the two of us, sharing this secret little world. It became the only thing that mattered to me.
     That led me down a dark hole into the worst drug binge of my life. We started doing not just crack, but heroin and meth, too. I kept having convulsions from smoking so much coke. Even when I almost lost my arm from an abscess caused by shooting drugs, I kept using. I couldn’t stop.
     The meth made us both crazy. Once, I went into the bathroom to find her ripping out the tiles, convinced I’d somehow hidden drugs there. She’d tear apart the lining of her clothes and bags, thinking she’d find the stash I must have sewn into the fabric, even though I’d never sewn a stitch in my life. It got worse and worse, more insane and brutal, until she flat-out attacked me one night. And still we kept at it.
     I was sick as hell, and my body started to shut down. My insides felt like cement. I’d have to sit in the bathroom for hours, trying to get it out. I could feel the poison inside me, but I kept trying to ignore it.
     And I kept trying to write. I had this absurd fantasy that I’d finish my book and my girlfriend and I would get clean. Somehow, I convinced myself that finishing the book would magically bring about a happy ending.
     I’d stay up writing for days at a time. Then I’d send pages to my editor. Of course, she’d write back and say, “Nic, these pages make no sense. You need to get help.”
     But I didn’t listen.


One night, I got this crazy idea to take apart my computer and my cell phone so I could combine them into some kind of miraculous invention. Of course, I couldn’t put them back together (if I had, I’d be a billionaire by now, because I’d pretty much have invented the iPhone). I freaked out, because without a computer, I couldn’t write my book. And without my book, I couldn’t make my dreams come true.
     I knew that my mom, who also lived in LA, kept an old computer in her garage. So I drove over to the Pacific Palisades with my girlfriend, and I dropped her at the Ralphs grocery store there. I probably said something like “Wait here. I’m gonna go steal this computer. I’ll be right back.”
     And then I drove to my mom’s house and broke in to her garage.
     It was six a.m.
     The rest is still kind of a blank.
     I must have gone into some drug-fueled psychosis. Suddenly, I couldn’t figure out how to get out of the garage. I felt caged in, and I panicked. I thought I heard people talking outside and ended up climbing up into the rafters and trying to tear away the shingles so I could escape onto the roof.
     Eventually, my girlfriend started calling everyone to look for me—including my mom, who came out and found me. It turned out I’d been there for about five hours, having a complete meltdown. Mom had brought along a member of the Los Angeles Police Department. They gave me a choice: rehab or jail.
     And I really didn’t want to go to jail.
     That launched a month of absolute detox hell. At first I slept a bunch. Then I couldn’t sleep at all. I had all these tiny seizures in my brain, and the pain gutted me.
     Finally, something happened that changed everything.
     My girlfriend showed up at detox and told me she’d figured out a way I didn’t have to go to jail. “We can stay at my friend’s house,” she said. “The police can’t find you there. I have drugs in the car. Come with me.”
     Like I said, that was seriously all I wanted—to just be with her forever. I went to my room and started packing my stuff. But then I looked at her, and I saw how sick she was. I knew beyond a doubt that if I left with her, we were both going to die.
     Until that point, not dying hadn’t been much of a priority. I’d even told myself it was better to go out on a wave of bliss than to live a crappy, sober life. But some tiny spark of hope must have flared inside me, because suddenly, I really wanted to live.
     I told my girlfriend I wouldn’t go with her. I needed to get help, I said, and she did too.
     The next day, my mom drove her to detox and I went into a long-term treatment facility in New Mexico.
     And that was the end of our relationship.
     For me, really, it was a beginning.


That treatment center, that last treatment center, was different. For the first time, the counselors and doctors helped me understand the pain inside that I kept trying to escape. They helped me look at why I hated myself so much. And they helped me start the long, difficult journey of learning how to live life sober.
     Not just to live, as in to exist, but to actually love my life.
     What made the difference for me, ultimately, was a combination of stuff and one really big idea.
     A psychiatrist figured out that I had depression and bipolar disorder. I’d been using drugs as a way to manage my symptoms, to keep myself sane—obviously unsuccessfully.
     It turns out that a lot of people who use drugs are trying to self-medicate—that’s how doctors describe it—for pain they’re in. Sometimes it’s physical pain. Often, it’s emotional trauma or something like depression, anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), an eating disorder, or some other psychiatric issue.
     I worked closely with the doctor to figure out the medications and therapy that would treat those disorders. I also entered a great outpatient program, where I made some friends I have to this day. I finished my book, Tweak, and then I wrote another, We All Fall Down. Again, my writing gave me purpose, but this time, with everything else in balance, it didn’t turn into an obsession.
     And the main thing I realized—the big, important thing—was that the more I tried to run from all the fear and depression, the worse it all became. I had to learn that I hadn’t been chasing a feeling all that time. I’d been trying to escape my feelings.
     First, I had to admit to having those feelings in the first place. And then I had to face them, to sit with them. Not run from them.
     Our society teaches us to numb ourselves with everything from TV and the Internet to food, sex, gambling, shopping, cell phones, and, yes, drugs. We’re addicted to distraction.
     I had to learn to stay with the pain, stay with the uncomfortable feelings, because that was the only way to grow up and live the life I wanted to live.
     The truth, I discovered, is the feelings need to be faced, not run from. When I run away from them, they grow larger, but when I sit with them, eventually they pass—every time.
     All I have to do is hold on.
     If I hold on, I know now, things will get better.
     I thought I’d have nothing if I stopped using. But now I’m grateful to be sober.
     Don’t get me wrong. It’s a hard road with a lot of ups and downs. Often, I wish I could go back in time to when I was younger—in high school or college—and deal with all those issues then, rather than wasting so many years. I wish I’d stood and faced what was going on instead of running away. I wish I had asked for help. I wouldn’t have hurt so many people, and I’d be further ahead in my career and in my life in general. I really wish for that sometimes—a life do-over.
     Too bad that’s not an option, though I’m grateful for where I am right now.


I’m not trying to scare you with my story. My dad and I wrote this book so others—so you—will have the information I didn’t have when I was a teenager. I’d heard about the dangers of drugs, but I never took them seriously. Like almost everyone I knew, I thought I could get high sometimes and stop when I wanted. I wish I’d known the truth.
     Our own experiences, and the experiences of others, made us want to understand drug use in our culture—why some use; why some use to excess; the impact of drugs on our brains, on our bodies, on our relationships, and on society as a whole; which drugs do what; and how and why some people abstain, how some start and then stop, and how even those who are addicted can get clean.
     My dad and I, we’re not going to lie to you.
     In this book, we go beyond the drama and the easy answers, because easy answers aren’t real—this isn’t easy. We hope the information we provide will help you decide what to do if someone hands you a joint, a beer, a pill—any drug. We hope you’ll be able to make a decision about trying drugs based on facts and science, not myths or ignorance. You’ll be able to weigh the supposed benefits of drug use versus the risks, the cost versus the payoff. You’ll learn about alternative ways to deal with stress. You’ll learn what to do if you need help—whether with drugs or anything else.
     Adults can warn you not to use. They can threaten you and punish you if they catch you using, but ultimately, you have to decide.
     In the past, adults told kids to “just say no.”
     We say, “Just say know.”
     Know yourself. Figure out what you want in life. Weigh the risks of using. Know the truth and decide.

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