CHICAGO (CBS) — If your loved one was addicted to heroin, would you know?

For most parents and loved ones, the revelation comes as complete surprise and many learn after it’s too late.

Ivon Zepeda says she was one of those parents. A single mom of four boys, she worked long days on her bus route, assuming her children were busy and happy.

“My boys were involved in sports, wrestling, football and baseball at Wauconda High School,” she recalls.

Then one day, the school called and told her something that changed her life forever.

“A teacher called me from the school and she says ‘Your son just left, and he said that he doesn’t know how to tell you, but he started using heroin.’ I was shocked. I thought, no way. I knew they were going to parties, smoking weed but heroin? No way. I was in denial.”

Zepeda took her son to the hospital to detox but says they sent her home without any other information about what to do from there.

Soon she’d learn her younger son Frankie was also using.

“So now I have both of them using,” she shakes her head. “I would come home, I would find syringes in his room, I would find spoons, I would find little baggies in his clothes and his pockets.”

She enrolled her older son in rehab, but it didn’t do any good.

“He thought it was a joke. It was just a place he could go to see his friends. He didn’t take it seriously. He relapsed a month later,” Zepeda said.

With two boys now addicted, she blamed herself. How could she have not known?

“Was I not watching them? Was I not paying attention? I’m a single mother. I knew something was wrong but I had so much going on I was probably trying to take the easy way out by denying it,” she said.

(Credit: Lisa Fielding)

(Credit: Lisa Fielding)

Soon, Frankie was stealing and pawning her things to support his habit.

“I came home and all my personal belongings were gone, the surround sound system was gone, he took my jewelry. I would sleep with my purse at night. I put locks on all the doors,” she said.

Zepeda finally decided she’d had enough.

“We lost the home, we lost everything, my kids are on heroin. Where do we go from there?”

She admits it took her a long time to realize her boys had a serious problem but she also has realized she’s not alone.

“There are so many parents out there like me. They have no idea what’s going on. All these parents are thinking, not my kid! It’s amazing to meet these parents. They come in for the first time to meetings and they remind me of myself,” she said. “I know now I was enabling their addiction by bailing them out of jail, giving them money.”

(Source: Ivon Zepeda)

(Source: Ivon Zepeda)

Zepeda says it’s important for parents to know the signs.

“Kenny would disappear for days, hanging out with different friends. I didn’t pay attention to our prescriptions, I think that’s where it started. I didn’t notice if the pills were gone. Frankie would use in the house. I found him in bed once, his arm was bleeding and he had overdosed. He wasn’t even 18,” she cried.

After 6 1/2 years of prison, rehab and relapse, Kenny is now more than 70 days sober in a rehab center in Chicago. Of her younger son, Frankie, she’s not so sure.

“I used tough love with him and finally kicked him out of the house. I know I did the right thing, but it’s so hard because you don’t know. It’s an everyday thing. I’m scared. I get so scared when I hear sirens and am afraid of that phone call,” she said.

(Credit: Ivon Zepeda)

(Credit: Ivon Zepeda)

Now, she can only hope he finds his own way back from addiction.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to him,” she said.

And her decision to speak out, during her struggle, she hopes can help other parents.

“To say the word addiction or say the word heroin without them judging, or insulting you, it’s difficult. The blaming needs to stop. The hiding needs to stop. I’m not going to lie, I hid it for many years. I didn’t want anyone knowing. It tore me up like you can’t even imagine,” she said.

But she speaks out mostly for her own sons, before it’s too late.

“I made a promise to my boys to do what I can now that they are still alive, I want to make a difference. I want to see them have a future. I want to see them have kids. I don’t want to bury them,” she said.

(Credit: Ivon Zepeda)

(Credit: Ivon Zepeda)

RELATED: This is the second in a series. Click here for the rest.