But over a four-year period, the family endured lies, stealing and stress. The parents wondered how their son got mixed up with drugs. They say they tried to do everything right. They had dinner together every night as a family and took vacations together.
“So it was very hard on all of us that he ended up where he ended up because we were a good family,” she said. “This isn't supposed to happen.”
Through family therapy, they realized that they had nothing to do with their son’s addiction.
“It's hard because you look back and say you could have, would have, should have done this or that,” she said. “Really, his poor choices were not my fault, and that's the first time I felt like it was his choice to do what he did.”
The other thing the couple struggled with was hiding their son’s addiction from family and friends.
“You can’t share that your son is an addict because of the stigma,” she said. “The way people think about you. We didn’t want people to think that we were bad parents and that’s why our son ended up where he was.”
As a school teacher, she didn’t want parents to say they didn’t want their kids in her class because her son is addicted to drugs, and “there must be something wrong with her,” she said.
Mary Jo McMillen, with the Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness, said a lot of times, families are frustrated with the stealing, the lying, or the arrests, or they used again.
“So many times, they are so hopeless,” McMillen said. “They are very powerless over stopping a runaway train, which is addiction.”
A lot of times, when family members call treatment centers, they are told to have the person who has the addiction give them a call, McMillen said.
Through family therapy, they talk about addiction as a disease. The focus is on the family, not the addict.
“It's the family member who's ready to get support at that point, and that's where we really need to, I believe, bring the family into the support system; because once we have the family supported, I think we stand a better chance and an opportunity to reach the person who is addicted.”
“Family group is about us,” Darlene Shultz said. “How we can find happiness in our lives again because it’s very hard to go through.”
McMillen recommends family members take care of themselves because the stress of dealing with someone with addiction can be very stressful.
“If you do that, you will be in a better place to act when your loved one may indicate, ‘OK, I’m ready to get help,’” she said.
It’s like when parents travel by plane with children. Emergency procedures say in case of a loss in cabin pressure, parents should put an oxygen mask on themselves first, and then help their child.
Derek Hinton and Niten Mondragon are both former heroin addicts, and they said they both were consumed by the isolating addiction.
"It totally takes you over," Mondragon said. "It's the best feeling in the world, but it brings the demon out inside of you."
"The physical withdrawals get to the point where you would do anything for it," Hinton said.
Hinton and Mondragon are both in Odyssey House treatment now and are recovering from their previous addiction. Their paths crossed only after spending years of being hooked, desperate, sick, and alone. Mondragon said his first heroin experience was smoking it at age 14.
"It's almost the new thing now, everyone is just doing heroin," Mondragon said. "And all my friends are still doing it, most of them."
The drug is cheap, easily accessible and popular, and experts say that people of all ages are scoring balloons of heroin at the expense of everything else.
Project Reality addiction expert, Joel Millard, said the drug is life sentence.
"It's a chronic disease, not an acute one," Millard said. "So once a person gets addicted for whatever reason, then that's a vulnerability they'll have for the rest of their life."
Experts say that was the case for actor, Phillip Seymour Hoffman. After going through rehab and becoming clean years prior, he succumbed to his addiction last weekend and died as a result. The drug systematically destroys families of the people using it.
"You lose trust. They lose faith in you sometimes and it creates a lot of problems in the family," Millard said.
"It really destroyed my family dynamics," Hinton said. "They lost trust in me. They lost faith in me. I know my mom would wonder if I was alive or dead and that makes me feel horrible looking back on it."
Both Hinton and Mondragon are fighting for their lives together in a friendship that could be key in their recovery. Experts say that one of the keys to recovery is healthy relationships, and that the sudden loss or lack of those kinds of friendships could be a sign of trouble.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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