Anita Devlin didn't know.
Her son, Mike, was spiraling out of control at the University of Vermont, living a life that revolved around prescription painkillers, cocaine, heroin and drinking. When he needed more money for drugs – when his side jobs and the cocaine he was selling didn't cut it – he called home and said he needed cash for textbooks, or because the rear tire had popped on his car.
Her son? Her son was a drug addict?
When Devlin learned how dire the situation was, she was the one who texted Mike repeatedly when he disappeared to a Motel 6 to "polish off everything he had," as he later confessed. She was the one who sought help both for herself, as someone who loved an addict, and for her son, when he was ready for it. And now, she continues to support him as he marks two and a half years of sobriety.
Devlin, 53, who lives in New York City, opened up to U.S. News about Mike's fight against addiction and the role she's played throughout:
Mike started experimenting with prescription drugs in high school. You didn't have any idea?
I had no clue he was doing anything other than maybe smoking pot. I guess, like a lot of parents in my generation, I never really had a problem if my kid smoked pot once in a while. I'll say it: I thought it was safer to sit out in the backyard smoking pot than being out drinking and driving. I thought that's what he was doing recreationally once in a while; I didn't think he was any big pothead. I had no clue about drugs. I thought, "My family is perfect, I've got a beautiful house, I've got great cars, my son is handsome, he's really smart, he's a great athlete." He had the whole package going for him. Why would I ever think he was doing drugs? I thought life was perfect.
Once Mike went to rehab, how did your family work together to support him?
The most important part for all of us as a family was when we went to Caron Treatment Center to join him for therapy and got it all out. Because it affects everyone. It's like an octopus – it reaches people the addict doesn't even know it's reached. The therapy was amazing for everyone as a family, because you're going through this horror together, but then you actually start to heal together. And that's where the strength comes from.
How did you react to the news of Cory Monteith's death?
I was extremely saddened. As a mother, your biggest fear is a relapse. And from what I've read about this adorable young man, he always felt a void and like he didn't belong. I connected to that because it was something my son had said to me once, and it's very real. Unfortunately, since he's a celebrity, people are going to judge him and say whatever they want about him. It's just very, very sad.
What's your advice to parents whose kids are struggling with addiction?
There's really nothing you can do until your child wants help and asks for it themselves. And while you're waiting for that, it's really important to get help yourself. Because you're not going to be able to help your child if you don't understand addiction. I started going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and even after Mike left Caron and went to aftercare, I stayed very connected with the Caron Foundation. You don't stop talking to them when your child leaves rehab, because any parent who thinks relapse is not possible is a fool. You have to stay aware. I learned that my son and I have to battle addiction together – you can't let them do it alone. You have to step forward and worry about the thing you care about most, your family and your child.
This is part of a two-part series. For the perspective of Devlin's son Mike, click here.