By Meredith Maran
If you suspect your child is using meth, get help immediately. "It's natural for parents to want to believe their kids are innocent," says Carol Falkowski, director of chemical health at the Minnesota Department of Human Services and author of Dangerous Drugs: An Easy-to-Use Reference for Parents and Professionals (Hazelden). "But if adults don't intervene, it will only cause the problem to escalate."
David Sheff, 52, author of Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction (Houghton Mifflin), learned that lesson the hard way. When his son, Nic, became hooked in high school, David refused to acknowledge the truth about the smart, precocious young man he thought he knew so well -- even after Nic began stealing money and was repeatedly hauled away in handcuffs for possession. "I had this deep-rooted image of meth being a motorcycle-gang, trailer-park drug," says David, a writer who had raised Nic in the upscale town of Inverness, not far from San Francisco. His denial made his son's recovery all the more harrowing. Nic went through a seven-year ordeal of overdosing, recovery, and relapse before finally achieving a hard-won sobriety that began, as David says ruefully, "in December of 2005 -- three years and two months ago. But who's counting, right?"
Now 25 and pursuing a master's degree in writing at Bennington College in Vermont, Nic has penned his own best-selling memoir, Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines (Ginee Seo). Staying clean remains a daily struggle. His father's greatest regret? That he and his ex didn't force their son into rehab when they were legally able, if only to keep him substance-free during the critical, vulnerable stage of adolescence. "Don't worry about depriving your kid of his privacy or the right to make his own decisions," says David. "If your child is endangering himself or others, you have to act fast."