David and Nic Sheff educate parents and teens about the dangers of substance abuse

Charlie Ginsburg

On Wednesday, Oct. 16, Angelico Hall at Dominican University was filled with nearly 700 parents and kids from across Marin County. However, the hall was not being used for college lectures, as it normally is. Instead, two well known authors, who also happen to be a father-son duo, spoke about drug and alcohol addiction. This topic is also addressed in their most recent book, “High.”

Spectators await the book talk outside of Angelico Hall at Dominican University in San Rafael.

Nic, who is a Marin County native, struggled with addiction starting from his teenage years and into his twenties. His rocky path to recovery was chronicled in his book “Tweaked” and in his father’s book “Beautiful Boy.” Both books were adapted into the movie “Beautiful Boy,” which starred Steve Carell and Timothy Chalamet.

However, their newest book is closer to a manual than a retelling. Packed with information and valuable drug-prevention related advice, the book provides details on the dangers of substance use interspersed with David and Nic’s personal experiences.

On stage at the event, interviewed by KQED radio host Michael Krasny, the conversation ranged from their own personal experiences with drugs to what parents can do to limit drug abuse within their community.

David believes that it is necessary for parents to become more aware of the struggles that their child could possibly be facing, rather than ignoring them.

“There was a pediatrician that I talked to that summed up the whole world of parents, which is that we don’t want to see things that are potentially scary that our kids are dealing with,” David said. “Recognizing the problem is one of the most important things.”

In addition to increasing awareness, David has noticed a difference in the purpose of substance use through time.

“The reasons for using [substances] are different now than when I was growing up. Alcohol used to be used as more of a social loop or something that could get you loose and get up the nerve to talk to a boy or a girl at a party, you’d get a little buzz on and feel more confident in putting yourself out there,” David said.

David (left) and Nic Sheff (right) laugh alongside host Michael Krasny during their conversation on stage.

Similarly, Laurie Dubin, founder of Be the Influence, an organization that helped put on the event at Dominican University, believes that informing people about the dangers of drugs and alcohol is necessary for the community as a whole.

“One of the goals is to increase awareness of the risks of substance use and how some kids out there are genetically predisposed to start [abusing] early,” Dubin said. “There’s a real risk of addiction and progression of drug use towards more dangerous drugs such as what Nick ultimately became addicted to.”

In collaboration with Be the Influence, the Marin County Office of Education (MCOE) took a lead role in organizing the event.

Just outside of the stage area, many organizations aimed at limiting substance use in Marin manned stations, consisting of pamphlets and poster boards with drug information and prevention advice.

According to Mary Jane Burke, the Marin County Superintendent of Schools, putting on the event was imperative for the community.

“The bottom line is that I represent 34,000 students and their families, and Marin County issues related to substance abuse are very serious,” Burke said. “My concern is that we have students who become addicted—students who have died, students whose lives are changed forever when substance abuse takes over.”

Burke also stressed that the responsibility of solving the issue of drug abuse in Marin is not her’s alone, but rather one that the community as a whole must work to fight against.

“Part of the responsibility I think we all hold as a community is ensuring that we are doing everything and anything we can to ensure that our kids and their families have all the information they need to make good decisions,” Burke said. “That is why I think events like this are important.”

David also believes that community efforts to mitigate teenage drug use are necessary. According to David, at the end of the day, recognizing the signs of a child who is struggling with abuse is equally as important for parents.

“I would recommend that people get educated so they understand what to look for and understand the pervasive nature of the problem so that they can help those who are suffering,” David said. “Then, once we know what to look for, if we think there might be a problem, assume that there is a problem and go forward and find out.”