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At Recovery Resources Annual Meeting, Best-selling author David Sheff spoke candidly on addiction and the suffering a family endures along with it.
“I think parents like me are hardwired for denial. We deny what’s in front of our eyes because acknowledging the truth is too scary,” said Sheff.
The truth he once struggled so hard to accept was his son Nic’s addiction to drugs.
“(Nic) was kind, joyful, lovely, and smart. I’m his dad so maybe I’m a little prejudice, but I watched him proudly as he grew up. He grew up strong and he seemed so self-assured. He was a good student and an athlete. I’m not saying it to brag, I’m saying it to show how clueless I was.”
Sheff shared that Nic’s drug use started at age 11 when he smoked marijuana for the first time. He then turned to heroin and methamphetamine.
“He didn’t care who it hurt. He didn’t care that he was hurting me, his mom and his little brother and sister, which astounded me,” said Sheff.
They sought out treatment centers for help, but to Sheff’s surprise, many health officials told him something he, at the time, couldn’t believe.
“When my son became addicted I kept hearing from people in various programs that he was sick, that he had a disease. I didn’t buy it at all.”
Today, Sheff’s view is completely different. He spends his time educating communities about this very idea. That addiction is a disease.
“Over time after doing a lot of research I began to understand that the reason (Nic) did those things is because he has a disease and it’s a brain disease. It’s an incontrovertible fact at this point. Once I understood that Nic was ill, that he had a brain disease, my anger instantly shifted to compassion. It just broke my heart. I said, ‘Oh my son, my poor son has this disease.’”
Watching Nic’s harrowing journey with addiction and recovery process, led Sheff to write two books – Beautiful Boy and his most recent, Clean, which educates on the latest research in psychology, neuroscience, and medicine that drug use is preventable and addiction is a treatable disease.
“There is all kinds of evidence. I’ve seen brain scans to prove that the brains of people who are addicted are different. When (addicts) understand that, they can then realize it’s still no fun, but maybe they can take some of that judgment and that self-loathing away from it and realize, okay I’m sick. What do you do when you’re sick? You go get help,” said Sheff.
While Sheff works hard to spread the message that addiction is a disease to communities across the country, he has learned that getting everyone on board with the idea isn’t easy.
“The problem is, there’s so much resistance still. The disease still is stigmatized and the obstacles to getting really good treatment is hard.”
Though, Sheff says he finds comfort and is hopeful, after seeing Recovery Resources efforts to create change and help people triumph.
“I’m just so impressed and feel like I’ve found the place that’s doing it right. It really gets the fact that this is a complicated disease that you can’t treat easily. You can’t treat it with one modality. It takes a combination of various kinds of therapies, integrating the other issues that come up in a person’s life. What you guys are doing is remarkable because it is based on what we know. That people who are suffering are not bad people, they are not choosing to be addicted. No one chooses to be addicted,” said Sheff.