The Backstreet Boy says he hit rock bottom after years of alcohol and drug abuse but has made a dramatic turnaround in his struggle with addiction, even as he continues to work on painful family relationships and cope with the death of his sister last year.
Carter, in an exclusive interview with Dr. Phil, gets candid about his demons, saying he started using marijuana when he was just 15 and then began taking Vicodin and Ecstasy. But in 2008, he was diagnosed with a heart condition, promptly stopping him in his tracks and spurring him to face his problems.
"I made that choice right there and said, 'I do not want to be this person anymore,'" Carter, 33, told Dr. Phil in an episode that aired Monday. "You have to find that moment in your life – that moment of clarity – and say, 'Is this who you want to be the rest of your life, or do you deserve more?' I decided I deserved better."
Losing a SisterDrug abuse has cost his family plenty. He lost his sister Leslie, 25, in January of 2012 to a drug overdose, and he tells Dr. Phil that as the oldest of the five Carter children, he feels at least partly to blame for her struggle, noting that three of the five siblings have all had drug problems.
Carter – whose band fully reunited last year after Kevin Richardson parted ways in 2006, and who got engaged in February – also explained why he did not attend his sister's funeral.
"I started to get blamed by the rest of the family. They were blaming me for the death," he said. "I felt it was unfair, especially with all the things I have done and continue to do for them."
Rocky Family LifeCarter says the family grew up in a home life that was "up and down." His father had a "dominating personality" and was someone who "kind of led by fear," he said.
Carter's success in the music industry made him the financial provider for his family, but despite the income, he wished he could have been a better role model for his brothers and sisters.
"I became the father in a lot of ways, due to the fact that I was making more money than my father, " he said of the pressure. "I love my family. But there comes a point when you really have to ask yourself if you are helping or hurting them."
Looking back, Carter – whose new book, Facing the Music and Living to Talk About It, is out now – says that he took on too much responsibility as the oldest child and admits that although his relationship with his family has been "toxic" in the past, he's working in therapy to become a better communicator.
That included helping younger brother Aaron also find his own sobriety. "When my brother entered rehab, I took him there. It was heartbreaking, but at the same time, there was more hope," Carter said.
Losing his sister was a wake-up call that he had to become a better man.
"The effect it had on me was that things needed to change ... and lead by example," Carter said. "I felt like I had to do something and show them that I'm being a better person."