Mom-Son Intervention Team Inspired by His Addiction

PHOTO: Brandon Krauss, who hit rock bottom on heroin and opiates, works with his mother, Debbie Krauss helping families with addiction.
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Brandon Knauss spent six months in jail -- "a cold, concrete hole" -- detoxing from a heroin and opiate addiction without any medications to help with the horror.

"There's a reason they call it kicking the habit," said Brandon, who was in his 20s at the time and had failed in rehab. "Your legs kick and I didn't sleep for the first two weeks.

"The aches went all the way to my bones," he said. "I felt like climbing the walls. I was crawling out of my skin with huge anxiety and panic attacks, nausea, diarrhea, sweats and chills. I'd rather die than go though that again."

Now 30, and clean. He credits his mother for saving his life by leaving him in jail after he flunked 10 drug tests.

"That was my rock bottom," he said. "Every addict has a rock bottom."

Debbie Knauss never gave up on her son and today, the pair work as a team in their Dallas-based family business, Vital Intervention Professionals (V.I.P.), to help other families wounded by addiction.

"Doing these interventions has kept me away from going back down that steep slope," said Brandon. "It reminds me of all the pain I caused my family and myself."

Tonight, a one-hour special, "Cracking Addiction," follows the Knausses as they prepare to execute two unpredictable surprise interventions: Angelica, a 23-year-old pregnant college dropout who is hooked on heroin; and meth-addicted Heather, a former biology teacher who has lost custody of her two children.

The TLC show airs at 9 ET, 8 Central.

The mother-son team follows families "door to door," from finding the addict on the streets, to intervention, through court orders, rehab and family readjustment -- 24 hours a day.

"She can relate to what families are going through, their anxiety and fears," said Brandon. "I get into the addict's head and know what they are thinking."

The Knauss family knows the mind set of an addict well: In 2003, Brandon was the first televised intervention with Dr. Phil McGraw. Then a college drop-out and addicted to opiates, he stormed off the show.

"It was kind of a hard thing to deal with at the time," he said. "I walked off the stage and broke some things. Dr. Phil told me to do a couple of things and gave me a choice between jail and rehab."

Brandon went into a halfway house but things fell apart and he slipped back into drug use.

"I wasn't grown up enough to ask for help and ashamed that I'd failed," he said. "Because of the stigma associated with addiction, no one wants to admit they are addicted."

Brandon's addiction began at a young age. In grade school, he and a friend had tried a few beers then tried to "explode" the cans. By 15 or 16, he was going to parties with alcohol, which he now views as the worst "gateway drug."

"It made me feel different," he said. "It took away my self-consciousness and shyness."

By 16, he was smoking pot and his grades started to slip. By 18, he tried ecstasy. In college, he was experimenting with opiates.

"I got addicted real quickly," said Brandon.

By the time he was 21, Debbie Knauss called Dr. Phil for help. But it was short-lived. "It felt like a nightmare," said Brandon. "They lied to me and tricked me even though I was the biggest liar out of everybody."

He entered rehab, but a little more than a year later, hanging out with old friends, he was back on pills and soon, heroin. "I couldn't control it," said Brandon. "The cravings were so strong for me."

The day everything changed, Brandon borrowed his mother's car to meet with his probation officer. After finding heroin in drug tests, a judge jailed him and gave him one phone call home so his mother could pick up her car.

"Little did I know the events would change the course of his life and ours," said Debbie Knauss, who found syringes in the car's console.

Son Hid Heroin Addiction From Family

"It really hit me like a brick wall how the disease had progressed in my son," she said. "At that moment he was on the brink of death .. I had no idea he'd been shooting up in our house."

So Debbie Knauss, a registered nurse, decided to make it her mission to save Brandon, learning more about addiction and getting certified in intervention services.

"We were a middle-class family with resources and insurance and we couldn't find a solution for our son," she said. "I knew there was a better way."

The first step was to leave Brandon in jail, even when he expected his parents would bail him out.

"My son was intelligent, creative and gifted at every level," she said. "That he would be in jail with criminals. It was the worst six months of my life."

Brandon detoxed "cold turkey" and didn't sleep for two weeks. "I didn't have meds to help me through," he said. "It was horrible, horrible. I would rather die than go through that again."

He entered a six-month rehab program in jail, the turning point for his recovery.

Six months later, Brandon moved back home with his parents. So committed to his recovery, the entire family moved from Houston, where Brandon had been exposed to friends who did drugs, to Dallas.

After school and certification, Debbie Knauss worked for one of the largest intervention companies in the world and eventually started her own company, V.I.P.

Brandon took a job waiting tables and working at a gun range. But about five years ago, Debbie called her son for help with a difficult case.

"The kid was about the same age as me, struggling with drugs," said Brandon. "He sounded just like me."

In their first intervention, the young addict "poured out his heart and soul to Brandon," a turning pointing in getting him the help he needed, said Debbie Knauss.

Since then, the young man has graduated from college, married and had a child.

Soon, mother and son discovered they were a good team.

"We found we had great chemistry working together," said Brandon. More families called for their help and he was eventually able to work with his mother full-time.

"Brandon had special gift and ability relate to young people in the way an adult cannot," said Debbie Knauss.

Debbie is able to relate to the families and their ordeal.

The pair continues to support families.

"We don't give up -- we are fighting for a life," said Debbie, remembering the battle for her own son. "We were willing to do whatever it took never to surrender to the disease and give up on Brandon."

As for Brandon, he takes each day at a time, still seeing a psychiatrist once a month to "blow off steam," and keeping busy with hobbies in his spare time.

But doing interventions has been the biggest part of his own recovery. "I realize how far I've come."

"My family was relentless," he said. "They wouldn't give up on me."

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