Young Nic Sheff and his father

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As a little boy, Nic seemed to have it all. David says his son had a winning personality and a golden, shining light about him. "He had this sort of joyfulness, this love of life," David says.

When Nic was 4 years old, his parents divorced. He grew up splitting his time between his father's home near San Francisco and his mother's home in Los Angeles. For years, David says he thought Nic was handling the difficult situation well. "He was almost always on the honor roll," David says. "He was the captain of the water polo team."

Despite appearances, Nic says he felt so much pain inside he went searching for something to numb his emotions. When he was just 11 years old, Nic says he got drunk for the first time. "The world was really abrasive and overwhelming, and I felt really hopeless," he says. "When I started drinking [alcohol], I couldn't stop."

One year later, David found marijuana in his son's backpack. Nic eased his father's fears by saying he'd made a mistake, but the truth was, he was secretly smoking pot every day by the time he was in middle school.