Memoir Chronicles Teenager’s Drug Addiction

Sam Lansky’s memoir The Gilded Razor is a frightening read in many ways. It is the tale of a teenager who tried alcohol and marijuana at 14, then escalated his drug use to cocaine and various prescription medications and almost killed himself using crystal meth at 18.

At the beginning of the book we meet a 17-year-old boy full of teenage angst, openly gay, and “subsisting on a diet of cigarettes and Adderall for months.” His parents were recently divorced and Sam moved away from his home in Oregon to live with his dad in New York City.

Sam felt, he could only experience happiness while using drugs. “Dexedrine was just pure, clean euphoria, the thrill of acing a test without even trying, the vertiginous rush of getting everything I always wanted all at once,” he writes in the book. “When I was high, I could be kind and engaged, cracking jokes and smiling warmly.”

Lansky’s father was away on business a lot and there was a distinct lack of parental supervision after the move to Manhattan. Sam attended an elite prep school on the Upper West Side where many of this fellow students used drugs and alcohol.

Despite having tested positive for cocaine a year earlier, Sam was mostly left to his own devices by his “unerringly unavailable father,” as he puts it in The Gilded Razor. It’s a recipe for disaster. Not only was he using drugs on a daily basis, he was now also engaging in very risky sexual behavior.  

He hooked up with older men he met online to feel “valuable” and also because they helped feed his voracious drug cravings. Behind the scenes, his parents became increasingly aware of his drug problem. During a visit home, his mother told Sam that she had been going to a support group for families of addicts, but she told Sam it was about her alcoholic father. Only much later Sam realized it was actually for him.

Another disturbing aspect of Sam’s story is the ease with which he was able to obtain prescription drugs from his own doctor. Sam knows exactly how to get the meds for his various disorders and when he ran into his father at the drugstore, he immediately offered his credit card.

After taking 20 of the Xanax in one evening, Sam woke up in the hospital. His drug use was fast approaching a first major crisis point. His parents had seen enough. Shortly after his graduation from high school, he is picked up in the middle of the night and taken to a wilderness camp in Utah.

The first attempt at rehab was mostly a failure. “All the ways I’d medicated—from the drugs all the way down to sarcasm—had been taken from me, but nothing had been resolved,” he writes. He didn’t go back to New York but stayed with his mother in Oregon. There were more attempts at recovery but he quickly relapsed each time and continued to blame his parents for “the mess they made.”

Sam eventually went to college but continued on his “warpath to self-destruction.” While his father was hospitalized after suffering a heart attack, Sam slept with a stranger and used cocaine. In the darkest chapter of the book, Sam wondered whether it was too late for him to turn it around. “There was just an enormous dark emptiness inside me that stretched out for thousands of miles.”

Sam’s case shows how addiction and substance use disorders affect the entire family. Decision Point Center believes that the family can play an important positive role when incorporated into a client’s treatment and recovery process. It is also important that families learn about the issues of misuse and how to help their loved on by managing the “rules of relationships” to avoid the common pitfalls of allowing compassion and caring from becoming enablement and control.

In the end, Sam was able to beat his addiction, getting sober at the tender age of nineteen. He is now 27 and an editor with Time Magazine. His story illustrates that recovery is possible even from the worst kind of addiction and sobriety can be a strong foundation for a meaningful life.

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The Gilded Razor by Sam Lansky available at Simon & Schuster