Rob Lowe's Son John Owen Reflects on Getting Sober and Leaning on His Dad: 'He Never Gave Up on Me'

"He was always there for me. I credit that with being one, if not the main, reason that I'm sober and living a healthy lifestyle," John Owen tells PEOPLE of Rob Lowe in this week's cover story

Rob Lowe's sons, Matthew and John Owen, have long seen their dad as a role model and inspiration.

"When you consider what he went through in his 20s, his meteoric rise and some turbulence, and being in the public eye for decades... To come out a family man, a really, really good father, a really, really strong husband, and just a fun, kind guy to be around, that's the day-to-day example he sets," John Owen, a 26-year-old TV writer, tells PEOPLE in this week's cover story.

The close father-son bond proved invaluable when John Owen went through a difficult time in his late teens and early college years.

"On the most personal level possible, when I was struggling with addiction, he was always there for me," says John Owen, who lives in L.A. with big brother Matthew, 28, a lawyer. "I credit that with being one, if not the main, reason that I'm sober and living a healthy lifestyle."

Rob Lowe Cover
Rob Lowe, his wife Sheryl Berkoff and their two sons, Matthew and John Owen. Courtesy Rob Lowe

Lowe, himself, navigated the fast-lane party life in his late teens and twenties as his career exploded with 1985's St. Elmo's Fire.

The Brat Pack-era magnum opus costarring a who's who of up-and-comers including Demi Moore, Andrew McCarthy, Ally Sheedy and Judd Nelson, left Lowe riding high... in every way.

Watch the full episode of People Cover Story: Rob Lowe on or on the PeopleTV app.

He emulated his St. Elmo's character, the "loveable rogue" Billy Hicks, for years, he says. "I became so identified with it—the wild, fun, rock and roll, quasi-debauched with the heart of gold [guy]: that's my early twenties in a nutshell."

Lowe, who will celebrate 32 years of sobriety in May, sensed early on that his younger son showed familiar signs of "taking 'work-hard, play-hard' to the extreme," he says. "I really knew Johnny was a chip off the old block, as his big thing was, 'Dad, I'm getting straight A's at Stanford. How much of a problem could I have?' That [justification] was my thing."

Rob Lowe Cover
Rob Lowe. Jonny Marlow

For more from Rob Lowe and his sons Matthew and John Owen, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

Keenly aware that no one can get someone else sober until the addict makes that choice for themselves, Lowe offered love, steady support and his experience.

This help, says John Owen, was "majorly instrumental."

"He never gave up on me," he explains of his father. "I have a little over three and a half years [of sobriety] now, but when I took my first-year chip, he and I spoke at a [12-step] meeting in front of 200 people. And it was one of the most profound experiences of my life."

Rob Lowe and John Owen Lowe
Rob Lowe and John Owen Lowe. David M. Benett/Getty

For Lowe, sharing the recovery journey with his son has been powerful.

"It's one of the great gifts of my life to have Johnny in our [recovery] club, in our wonderful, f—ed-up, extraordinary club," says Lowe. "To give him his one-year [sobriety] chip, and for him to give me my 30-year chip, it defies articulation."

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Matthew also witnessed his little brother's struggle and recovery, as well as watched first-hand the meaningful effect of his father's influence.

"The whole family rallied around [and] having someone who has such experience in the realm of sobriety to lead the charge was so invaluable," says Matthew, who shares his own special bond with his dad.

"He does the same thing in everyday life: [Whether it's] me going off to college, or to law school, he's always the cheerleader," he adds. "He's the first one to do absolutely anything to help you succeed."

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact the SAMHSA substance abuse helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.

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