No one ever expects their child to turn into a drug addict.

For Kathy Wagner, an Ahwatukee Foothills mom, it has been an absolute nightmare. She’d done everything she could to raise her son in a loving and caring environment. In his freshman year at Desert Vista he was taking honors courses and was on the cross country team, and Kathy says for the first time in his life he was really feeling good about himself.

Everything changed during his sophomore year when he began to feel pressure from his honors courses and his self esteem plummeted. He made friends with the wrong crowd and his life would never be the same. He started smoking marijuana and quickly spiraled into much more serious drugs. At the age of 16 Wagner sent her son away for his first round of rehab.

“Before we sent him away it got to where he wasn’t coming home at night and wasn’t coming home from school,” Wagner said. “He didn’t come home for four days a couple times. I was out driving around in the middle of the night looking for him. I was doing crazy stupid things looking for him.

“I tried taking his shoes away so he couldn’t go out. I took one of each shoe away and he ended up going out in one slipper and one shoe. We never let him have a license or a car. We took his phone away right off the bat when he didn’t answer our calls. But there are plenty of other kids out there who are still in trouble, but whose parents still let them have cars and phones. He could always find a place to stay and do his drugs.”

Wagner’s son has now spent years in and out of rehab, and their home. At 20 years old, he sits in jail with a felony on his record. Wagner said at the time when they were going through everything, despite her best efforts, she couldn’t find any support. That’s why a new group in Ahwatukee Foothills means so much to her.

Parents of Addicted Loved ones, or the PAL group, meets every Monday night at Mountain Park Community Church in Ahwatukee Foothills. The group was started by retired substance abuse counselor, Mike Speakman, in 2007. There are PAL groups across the Valley. The Ahwatukee group began meeting at Horizon Presbyterian Church in August, but moved to Mountain Park Community Church in October.

Wagner said she may not be dealing with the problems associated with her son’s addiction every day now that he is in jail, but she decided to attend the group to give support to others and to get support for herself.

“It’s still hard,” she said. “We don’t get to see him. Even though it’s a relief, because we know he’s relatively safe and he’s not doing drugs. That’s a blessing. But we don’t know that when he gets out he won’t go back to it. We have hope, but I don’t have any expectations.”

Each meeting begins with a prayer, followed by introductions. The group is given one of eight lessons on dealing with addiction. After the lesson there is time for everyone to give an update on what’s going on in their life. The group offers support and sometimes advice, but each case is different and each parent is encouraged to make their own decisions. The group is only meant to educate.

“There is an education that is needed to learn how to deal with it, live with it and understand it to help your child, or in some cases your spouse,” Wagner said. “The other half of it is support… It’s just tremendously comforting. Being the parent of an addict is very isolating. It’s depressing, frightening and as a friend of mine said, most people don’t want to talk about it. They’re afraid they’re going to catch it. It’s not positive so they don’t want to hear it. They dread you bringing up the subject or even mentioning that child’s name. It changes your life.”

Speakman said his message to parents is there is a curriculum to dealing with addiction and it is possible to learn it.

“This is a group of moms and dads going through the same thing, who are learning things that are not in our day-to-day availability to learn,” Speakman said. “They’re learning the story behind the story of drug and alcohol abuse. There’s a curriculum to drug abuse and you can learn it. You don’t have to get all the details, but you can learn an overview and have an understanding. From that deeper understanding of the problem different choices come up that you did not see before. It’s empowering to have this knowledge because it opens up areas of choice that you would not normally have thought of.”

The Ahwatukee group meets at 7 p.m. every Monday night at Mountain Park Community Church, 2408 E. Pecos Road.

For more information on the group or to find a meeting location, visit or call 1 (800) 239-9127.


• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or

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