Written by Blair Peppe
Beautiful Boy is a movie about a teenage boy, Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet) and his relationship with his family and father David Sheff (Steve Carell). When Nic becomes addicted to meth, the detrimental effects of his addiction threaten to destroy him and the actor, artist, and writer he once was. His father becomes obsessed with his son’s addiction and does whatever he can to save his son and his family. The movie is an adaptation of the two books David and Nic have written in real life – “Tweak” by Nic Sheff, and “Beautiful Boy” by David. Both works are personal accounts of what it’s like to struggle with addiction, and the toll it takes on everyday aspects of life.
This movie’s release could not be more topical. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention released a report in 2017 which showed more than 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses—a 2-fold increase in a decade. The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine released an official report, Pain Management and the Opioid Epidemic: Balancing Societal and Individual Benefits and Risks of Prescription Opioid Use which showed opioid drug overdose as the leading cause of unintentional death in America. From 1999 to 2011, the annual number of overdose deaths from prescription opioids nearly tripled. From 2011 to 2015, the annual number of deaths from prescription opioids remained relatively stable, but overdose deaths from illicit opioids (including heroin, synthetic opioids, and methamphetamines) nearly tripled.
A study was conducted to measure the count of lives lost to the epidemic in New York counties: Greene County, Cortland County, and Dutchess County are the areas that have been most affected. Not enough adequate research has been conducted to examine the relationship between epidemic severity and location, however, man hypothesize that a low-income environment as well as prescription drug laws play key factors. Some research has shown that college students may be more prone to developing an addiction, explaining that “emerging adulthood has heightened risk for substance use. College students experience unique challenges, making them prone to use of alcohol, marijuana, and non-medical use of prescription drugs.”
Donald Trump has declared the issue as a national epidemic. The substance abuse crisis is an area of bipartisan consensus in the House and Senate. Though this may seem shocking due to current political polarization in U.S government, both Republicans and Democrats agree the epidemic requires government intervention and that those suffering from addiction would benefit most from treatment instead of criminal punishment. The agreement seen between these two parties can be viewed as proof of the epidemic’s severity. Trump’s declaration of the issue as a national epidemic will reduce the delay of resources allocated to help solve the problem by creating drug take-back programs, opening the Public Health Emergency Fund, allowing the Department of Health and Human Services to hire more educated staff to deal with the crisis, allowing patients recovering from addiction to use methadone and buprenorphine (telemedicine) to help wean themselves off of opioids, and making the National Dislocated Worker Grants available to people with opioid addiction instead of solely victims of natural disasters. Though the steps taken by the United States government are arguably better than nothing, these changes are not big enough to even make a dent in the issue at hand. For that to happen, billions of dollars would need to be funneled to the cause.
The surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, released the first national report dedicated to substance addiction. The report showed that one in seven Americans will suffer from substance addiction at some point in their lives. This increases the likelihood that readers of this article know someone in their life who has suffered or is currently suffering from addiction. Resilience is most important when recovering from addiction, and part of a person’s ability to be resilient is dependent on the strength of their support system. It is possible that the programs and methods the U.S government intends to implement will be effective, however, the problem is also dependent on the way people surrounding individuals suffering from addiction respond—not with judgment but with compassion.
In an interview with the New York Times, Nic and David discuss the stigma surrounding addiction—the fact that addiction is often viewed as a character flaw rather than a physical illness. David recalled how difficult it was to view his addicted son in sympathetic lighting, to make the mental shift from “how could he do this to me and the family and to himself,” to understanding that he was troubled and ill. Methamphetamines chemically alter a person’s brain in such a way that an individual’s identity can completely change. Addiction is an illness that takes over the body and mind—it has the power to completely change personality. In this state, it makes sense for many individuals suffering from addiction to describe their experience as largely characterized by a loss of control—A consistent support network helps alleviate this feeling.
The ending image of Beautiful Boy shows Nic leaning on his father for support as they walk out of the hospital after his miraculous survival of a life-threatening overdose. The unresolved ending doesn’t promise a permanently clean future for Nic, but instead shows the importance of a support network when an individual is recovering from addiction.