By Jennifer Brice

DENVER (CBS4) – Families across Colorado are struggling with opioid and heroin addictions that are ravaging communities. Parents and children struggle to stay together because of the addictions.

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CBS4’s Jennifer Brice spoke with a mother and son who are now healing after addiction nearly destroyed their family. The mom says she never felt comfortable in her own skin from a very early age.

“I was always looking for a way to escape,” she admitted.

She had her first drink at 13.

“That’s when I found what I was looking for,” she added.

Drinking escalated to cocaine, then prescription pills, but her addiction kicked into high gear when she first took OxyContin. She was 19, now a mother, when oxy and eventually heroin ruled her world.

“It took hold of me,” she said. “That was like my higher power.”

Her addiction continued as her son grew into a toddler and kindergartner. She says he was often the parent of the pair.

“He was the one taking care of me.”

The boy, who is now 10, says he was very lonely.

“I didn’t really understand what was going on but I knew something was wrong,” he said. “She would just be sleeping all the time and I would look through the cabinets for something to eat.”

She hit rock bottom when he was six years old. She overdosed. The near death experience, and possibly losing him, led her to rehab and eventually sobriety. She has now been clean for four years.

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He says his life is very different now that mom is sober.

“Now we hang out all the time and we get to go places and do fun things,” he said.

The two admit that their relationship takes effort in the wake of addiction. There is a lot for them to learn about each other. They work to unravel the damage left behind from mom’s addiction by getting help from the Betty Ford Children’s Center. It’s a place for children to learn about addiction with kid-friendly language. They are told that addiction is like carrying around a heavy bag of rocks.

When their parents use drugs or alcohol, their bag gets lighter. Lindsey Chadwick is a counselor with the program. She says, “Children who come from addicted homes are often the first ones to get hurt and the last to get help.”

At the program the kids talk about their feelings. They learn that addiction is not their fault, that they can’t control it or cure it. It’s their job to be a kid and restoring fun for them is a key big aspect of the program says Chadwick.

“They don’t always get to have fun when addiction is around, so we really want to bring that back for them,” Chadwick said.

The kids draw pictures to help their parents understand what the addiction has felt like for them. She says those drawings helped her understand how damaging her addiction was to her son and how critical it is for her to stay sober.

“I can never, ever put (him) in that situation again,” she said. “I have to do everything in my power to not do that again.”

Parents have to be sober at least 30 days for their kids to join the Betty Ford program. It’s for children ages 7-12.

Additional Resources

Visit hazeldenbettyford.org for more information.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The woman who struggled with addiction and her son’s names were removed from this article following its publication.