WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Only on 9 tonight, a mother's perspective on living with a child addicted to heroin.
For five months now, reporter Andrea McCarren and photojournalist Joe Martin have documented the ups and downs of addiction with 21 year-old Ryan.
For the first time, Ryan's mother opens up.
Her name is Melissa and she says if her child had a disease like cancer, people would rally around her, offering an abundance of support. But when your child is an addict, she says it's lonely and desperately difficult.
"You love them so much. It's just painful. You don't want to lose them. You know that they're gonna end up in jail or dead," she said.
Melissa is emerging from the shadows, breaking through the stigma of addiction, to let other mothers of addicts know they're not alone.
"It's living hell. You don't know what to do. You're lonely. It's not something you put out there, 'Hey everybody, my kids an addict.' There's such a stigma. Not a lot of people know. I was worried about the community. What would they think of me as a mother? Would they not let their kids play with my other kids? Would they think it was a bad home he came from?"
Melissa's son Ryan grew up a typical teenager, smart and athletic. In high school, he experimented with drugs--their magnetic pull would never let him go.
"I remember praying that he would get arrested so I would get some help," she said. "Then I found it just made things worse. Because the system doesn't help. They don't treat it as a disease, they don't treat it as these kids are sick and they need help. It's a punishment."
Eventually addicted to heroin, Ryan's desperation for his next hit led him to steal from his own family, prompting Melissa to make the toughest decision of her life.
"It was the hardest thing in the world," said Melissa.
She threw Ryan out of her house and pressed charges.
"To get to the point where you have to throw your kid out of your house because they get to the point of stealing from you and the lying and you have other kids you have to protect. It goes against every one of your motherly instincts."
We have documented Ryan's struggle on television. The day we met, he had promised to get clean. It was a promise he couldn't keep-even for a few hours.
"That's when I was at my breaking point. If he didn't get help soon, watching how bad he looked on camera. That killed me. That brought me to my knees."
Today, Ryan is at TROSA in North Carolina, where we recently visited. It is a free, two-year residential treatment program where Ryan has been clean now for 16 weeks. Melissa has no doubt-the program saved his life.
"That was my breakdown but the happy breakdown. Gosh, that's my boy. That's the boy I remember, that's the Ryan I remember," she said. "That's the smart, caring, loving kid that I remember and I saw it again for the first time in a really long time."
Melissa is going public to help shed light on the lack of affordable treatment for addicts nationwide. She's found great comfort connecting online with other mothers, through The Addict's Mom Facebook group and website.
Both became her lifeline.
Written by Andrea McCarren, WUSA9