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A Father’s Struggle With His Son’s Addiction, Why David Sheff Says Addiction Is A Mental Illness

040813 David Sheff - Credit Brent Nagel.jpg
Brent Nagel

David Sheff is a journalist and New York Times best-selling author. 

In 2008, he wrote a memoir, Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction, about how his family dealt with his son‘s methamphetamine addiction.

In a new book, Sheff argues that addicts suffer from an illness and are not simply victims of their own bad choices.  “We must acknowledge addiction is an illness…and not just bad behavior…because we punish bad behavior…we treat illness,” Sheff writes.

Host Don Marsh talked with David Sheff, about his new work, Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy.

“Young people are the trick,” Sheff said.  “The brain is developing more for us as humans from when you’re 15 years old up until about 25…and that’s when it’s the most vulnerable and that’s exactly the time when most kids start using.  Ninety percent of the people who become addicted started before they were 18.”

Parents and Stigma

Sheff writes about how parents and families become consumed with a child’s drug addiction. 

“When a child becomes addicted…it’s a life and death and parent’s jobs are to protect our kids and suddenly and it gets worse and we’re watching it happen as they spiral out of control,”Sheff said.

“The other thing is they’re being judged.  It would be horrific to have a child get cancer but there would only be sympathy and support from the people around you. But if you have a child who’s starting to use drugs there’s a sense that they’re the bad kids and in some ways they deserve it and you must be a bad parent…but it has to do with a combination of forces that create addiction,” Sheff said.

Related Event

St. Louis Public Library Presents David Sheff
Monday, April 8, 2013
7:00 - 8:30 p.m.
St. Louis Public Library's Central Library, 1301 Olive Street

(314) 241-2288

 St. Louis Public Library Website

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
Mary Edwards came to St. Louis Public Radio in 1974, just after finishing her Bachelor of Music degree at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She has served the station in a number of capacities over the years. From 1988-2014 she also taught an undergraduate class in radio production at Webster University. Mary was inducted into the St. Louis Media History Foundation Media Hall of Fame in April, 2017 and received the Gateway Media Literacy Partners' Charles Klotzer Media Literacy Award in 2012. Mary retired from St. Louis Public Radio in 2018, but still serves the station as a St. Louis Symphony Producer.
Don Marsh served as host of St. Louis Public Radio’s “St. Louis on the Air" from 2005 to 2019, bringing discussions of significant topics to listeners' ears at noon Monday through Friday. Don has been an active journalist for 58 years in print, radio and television. He has won 12 Regional Emmy Awards for writing, reporting, and producing. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, was inducted into the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame in 2013, and named “Media Person of the Year” by the St. Louis Press Club in 2015. He has published three books: his most recent, “Coming of Age, Liver Spots and All: A Humorous Look at the Wonders of Getting Old,” “Flash Frames: Journey of a Journeyman Journalist” and “How to be Rude (Politely).” He holds an honorary Doctor of Arts and Letters degree from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

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