April 16, 2014 12:00 PM

On the morning of Sept. 17, 2011, Joshua Scott Jones was alone in the presidential suite at a San Diego Hyatt, nursing a beer. Groggy from popping pills and drinking all night with strangers, he didn’t want the party to end, but his Steel Magnolia partner Meghan Linsey and their band had wanted no part of Jones’s binge and had gone their separate ways the night before. “No one wanted to be around me,” he says. “I had alienated everybody.” In despair Jones gazed out his window and considered the 42 floors below: suicide. “It went through my head,” he says. “But I knew it would be a mess, and I didn’t want anybody to see me like that. I was like, ‘I can’t end it like this.'” Instead he dropped to his knees and lay his head on the hotel bed. “I cried out to God, ‘You’ve got to do something.'”

It was a turning point for Jones, for whom substance abuse had long been daily routine. “On any given weekend, it was pills, booze, and once the party started, it didn’t stop,” he says. “I always needed to be taking something – something to get going, something to slow down.” So just as Steel Magnolia’s fortunes were flying high – their debut album had hit No. 3 on the charts that year, and they were nominated for their second CMA award – Jones entered rehab. “It was the most difficult thing of my adult life,” says Jones, 33. “But I needed to change. Something had to give.”

Change is, of course, no easy feat, especially for someone who began huffing gas at the age of 12 in a friend’s garage in small town Central Illinois. The roots of the singer’s addiction, however, stretched back even further. Adopted at age 1½ by an uncle and his wife because his teenage parents weren’t able to care of him, Jones idolized his adoptive father, a Baptist preacher. But his adoptive dad also struggled with schizophrenia, leaving Jones scared and confused. “Watching him break down and lose himself, watching the fear and paranoia take over, was so painful,” the singer recalls. “I felt lost and started self-medicating. I didn’t know how to deal with all that.”

By 13, Jones was drinking regularly, and by 2006 when he moved to Nashville, washing down pain pills with vodka tonics was a way of life. By the time he met Linsey at a karaoke bar in Nashville and the two then-solo singers discovered the power of their soulful harmonies, Jones was a “highly functioning” addict. “Sometimes people thought I was a little off. But nobody could really tell – I would always show up and do what I had to do,” he says. As the pair – who became a couple offstage as well – made a name for themselves, winning CMT’s Can You Duet reality show in 2009 and scoring a Top 5 single with “Keep on Lovin’ You,” Jones tried to manage his drug use. He eased up on pain pills before performing – “It messed with my hearing and motor skills too much” – but always drank before taking the stage. “I had it down to a science,” he says.

By 2011 it was clear he wasn’t in control. Though he and Linsey had gotten engaged that year, his behavior had created a rift. “When you start getting high at 13, you’re emotionally stunted,” he says. “I didn’t take people’s feelings, or my own pain, seriously. I masked it. I was angry and emotional, and I didn’t deserve respect from Meghan or the band. It eventually unraveled us.”

His call to God from that empty hotel room was a cry for help, but still Jones partied with strangers for another two days, his band having gone home to Nashville without him. Then, at the airport, he collapsed from exhaustion. “Everyone was worried, and I couldn’t take it as a joke anymore,” he says.

When he returned to Nashville, his record label along with Meghan and some friends staged an intervention. He entered rehab just as Steel Magnolia was to open for the Reba tour: “It was like having my world ripped out from underneath me.” And yet during his 30-day stay, “I learned to get all this stuff out,” he says. “Now I’m able to love in a much bigger way than before.”

The realization couldn’t heal his relationship with Linsey – the two broke up at the end of 2011 (“We still talk all the time, and we’re like brother and sister”) – or the band, which officially split last year. But Jones has a new girlfriend, a new solo album and a new outlook. “I feel and enjoy things so much more,” he says. Like walking into Nashville’s Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge one afternoon in January, the day his first solo single was released, and turning down a drink in favor of a chance to play his new song. “I was focused and clear, and it felt good,” he says. “It used to be scary to think about getting onstage without drugs. Now it’s scary to think about ever doing that again.”

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