For decades, Backstreet Boy Nick Carter was a little boy lost. A troubled childhood in a dysfunctional family, coupled with the pressures and temptations of fame created the perfect environment for his downward spiral into a life of drug and alcohol abuse. Now, clean and serene at last, Nick has written a new memoir that reveals the full extent of the dark and tragic struggles he hid from fans for years: starting with his first drink, at age 2.
In Facing the Music and Living to Talk About It, Nick writes that his first home was an apartment located above a bar and sometime strip club, The Yankee Rebel in Jamestown, New York. It was owned and operated by his parents and grandmother, and from Nick’s earliest days, the temptation of alcohol beckoned.
“Family legend has it that when I was two years old, I crawled into one of the Yankee Rebel’s liquor storage rooms where I was caught drinking for the first time,” he reveals. “My parents always laughed at that. I laughed too, for a while, and then I didn’t laugh at it any more.”
Indeed, alcohol was a constant presence in his home growing up. “My parents …always stressed about money, which is another reason they turned to alcohol so much,” he explains. “I’m shocked to see home movies taken when I was nine and ten; in them, I’m pretending to be drinking. Clearly, I’m mimicking my parents.”
“In one home movie, my cousin and I are acting as if we were going out to a bar like two adults,” he writes. “We danced and feigned we were partying. Looking back at how alcohol was part of our playtime, I realize just how deeply my parents’ drinking affected me. It was as if I was programmed to drink.”
And before long, he did, with all of his energy, even as he found success with the Backstreet Boys at age 13.
“I began drinking heavily in my teens,” Nick writes, “and then moved on to drugs at eighteen or nineteen, starting with marijuana and moving up to cocaine, Ecstasy, and prescription painkillers among other substances.”
“Kevin [Richardson]and the other BSB members saw me drinking and getting into trouble and all they could do was shake their heads,” he says. “…They told me that I had the potential to be a better person and make more of my talents. They knew I had a good heart and soul and wasn’t using my head. The guys warned me many times that my partying was out of control and that I was headed for serious trouble.”
Sadly, they were right. Nick was arrested for the first time in 2002 at the Pop City bar in Tampa. “We hit it hard and then things got out of control around closing time,” he remembers. The rest of the night is hazy, but he ended up in the back of a cop car for resisting arrest without violence.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t learn from it,” Nick says. “I just kept compounding my problems by continuing the same unacceptable behavior and messing up. No internal alarms went off for me, despite what the other guys in Backstreet said. I rolled on, repeating the same self-destructive pattern for quite a while longer.”
In his early 20s, Nick says he moved from marijuana to Ecstasy and prescription painkillers.
“I did a lot of Ecstasy over one particular three or four month period,” he reveals, “and I probably regret taking that illegal and dangerous drug more than anything I’ve ever done. I’m afraid the amount I did caused changes in my brain that are responsible for bouts of depression that I now struggle to control.”
Indeed, alcohol was doing more than enough damage to Nick’s life on its own. After one night of downing shots of 151 rum, he remembers, “When I woke up, I was back in my apartment and scared as hell because I didn’t know how I got there or what had happened during the time in between. Blacking out like that was typical when I was drinking…”
On another night, “I was doing prescription painkillers on top of drinking alcohol,” he says, “and I remember going back to my condo, getting in bed alone, listening to my heart pound and feeling as if my body was falling apart from the inside out … But despite those fears, I never seemed to learn from my mistakes.”
And in 2005, he was arrested for DUI. The judge sentenced him to 13 AA meetings, and while Nick says a small part of him awakened to the truth about his problems, he still and a long way to go to sobriety.
“My life plummeted to an all-time low … ,’” he remembers of that period. “…We’d chug beers and pound down shot after shot until we reached the semi-comatose state where the alcohol made us sleepy and lethargic. Then we’d do a bump of cocaine for an energy boost.”
“My crowd made partying an extreme sport,” he explains. “We repeated that binge and bump cycle night after night.”
One night, as Nick made his way home from yet another party that lasted until the morning light, he was horrified by hallucinations that everyone on the streets was a zombie. The city bus driver even refused to let him board because he was so messed up.
At home, he took a long, hard look in the mirror. “My face looked bloated, the way it would in a carnival fun house mirror,” he writes. “My body was twice its normal width due to the 50 pounds I’d gained from hard drinking, overeating, and a lack of exercise. My skin was ashen gray tending towards translucent. … I had never been in such frightening shape emotionally, mentally, or physically. I was scared for my life. My body seemed to be crashing and my brain was close behind.”
At that moment, he picked up his phone, called his publicist, and asked to go to rehab.
Nick made it through doors of Promises Malibu, still drunk and high on cocaine. But after a tour and intake interview, he decided at the last minute to try it on his own. He flew to his home in Cool Springs, Tennessee, for several weeks, where he underwent what he calls “self-rehab.” Unfortunately, that didn’t stick, and six months later he was back drinking and partying harder than ever before. And his body began sending him signs that it couldn’t take it any more.
After one night of downing at least 20 shots of Sambuca, Nick says, “When I woke up, my first thought was ‘Oh my god. I’m dying.’ My heart was doing a dance routine in my chest. My lungs felt like someone was stomping the air out of them. My gut was swollen. I didn’t have the strength to get out of bed.”
Nick soon pulled himself together enough to go see a cardiologist who put him through two days of tests. On the night before he was to receive the results, Nick says, “I partied like it was my last night on Earth. … I drank like I was trying to drown the demons inside my body. Then I did enough blow to make up for the six months I’d stayed clean.”
The next day, his worst fears were realized: He was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart that killed the similarly hard-partying singer Andy Gibb and the actor Chris Penn.
But instead of having an epiphany, Nick hit the bars again. “I drank, did drugs, and partied until I was paralyzed and passed out,” he remembers. “I woke up in a hotel room with my head pounding so hard I couldn’t focus my eyes. … My heart was pounding so loud, I thought someone was at the door. I decided my body was trying to get me to pay attention one last time. … It was change or die.”
And so he changed. After commiting to a healthier lifestyle, Nick says, “I’m not perfect now. I still slip up when it comes to drinking. But I’m alive and great things have happened for me in the last few years. I would have missed them. I’m glad I didn’t. Take care of yourself so you’ll be present for the great things in your life too.”