Author Archives

Zachary Siegel

Nic and David Sheff on ‘Beautiful Boy’ and Telling Addiction Stories Responsibly

Nic and David Sheff at a book signing in 2008. Shawn Ehlers / Stringer

Zachary Siegel | Longreads | November 2018 | 14 minutes (3,640 words)

Some books have a way of finding you at just the moment you need them. That’s been the case with me and the father-son memoirs that serve as the source texts for Beautiful Boy, a new film about a family wrestling with addiction, starring a worried-sick Steve Carell as David Sheff, father to his dopesick son, Nic, played by Timothée Chalamet.

Nic Sheff’s drug memoir, Tweak, was resting on my friend’s coffee table with little crumbs of weed on the black and red cover. It was 2010 and I was a 21-year-old daily smoker of black tar heroin. I rarely left my apartment in Denver, which had become a dark opium bunker, burnt tin-foil and hollowed out Bic pens (“tooters”) strewn about. One day I left to buy some weed from a friend, and there was Nic’s book. I asked to borrow it; nonchalantly, I should add, making it seem as though addiction was only a cursory interest of mine, as opposed to a ghost that had been following me for years.

I devoured all 352 pages in a couple days. Melting wherever I sat, hours-long reading sessions on heroin were quite comfy. But after a few hours I’d have to shut one eye to keep from seeing doubles. I’m realizing only now that I never returned Nic’s book to my friend — I swear I’m not that guy anymore. Read more…

Hating Big Pharma Is Good, But Supply-Side Epidemic Theory Is Killing People

Jose A. Bernat Bacete / Getty, Illustration by Katie Kosma

Zachary Siegel | Longreads | September 2018 | 20 minutes (5,459 words)

After breakfast each Sunday we had the option to attend a spiritual group. The facility’s spiritual counselor was a tall woman with greying frizzy hair who collected vaguely heart-shaped rocks, and always had several on her desk that she’d gift to patients who stopped by her office.

She wouldn’t give you just any old rock; no, the rock she’d choose for you had a story: its color, unique dents and chips resembled resilience, an ability to withstand harsh elements while retaining your heart’s shape. She insisted the Sunday group wasn’t religious. “Religion is for people who’re afraid of going to hell,” the popular saying around Alcoholics Anonymous goes. “Spirituality is for people who have already been there.” So we sang along to “Let it Be” by The Beatles.

We had mostly blamed ourselves for what landed us inside an addiction treatment facility. But we were young, so we also blamed our parents (thanks Obamacare!). The reason why we were all in treatment and not quarantined in jail is because we were mostly white and upper-middle class. It was the summer of 2012 and young people like me all over the country were developing opioid addictions. The difference between us and the vast majority of others was our family’s resources, namely insurance that covered the $1,000 per day cost for a residential stint at a spiritually tinged hospital-meets-lake-house just outside the Twin Cities (the land of 10,000 treatment centers). The campus edged Medicine Lake, which I always found cruel because the facility didn’t much like to use medicine at the time, medicine that would’ve eased my withdrawal and given me the best chance at kicking for good. “We don’t do that here,” I recall a nice Minnesota doctor saying.

Addiction experienced in the first-person feels like watching a movie shot entirely in extreme close-ups. No matter how hard you try, you can’t see the world beyond the frame. A tolerance builds after a while and you grow used to the shaky, nauseating ride. We couldn’t have possibly known it at the time, that we weren’t the stars in our very own drama. The content of our stories differed in the details, but the tone was uncannily similar: how prescription painkillers first took hold; after pharmaceuticals became scarce and expensive, how we, as a generation in unison, playing a fucked up game of Red Rover, beelined toward heroin. Another thing we had in common was a lot of dead friends. Read more…