Matt Brown didn’t like the man he was becoming.
“I could see myself spiraling,” the Alaskan Bush People star says exclusively in the current issue of PEOPLE.
Once he began spending more and more time drinking with friends “in town” over the past year, Brown admits, “I was more withdrawn. I was slower. Things didn’t excite me the way they used to.”
Brown, 33, says he first started drinking a few years ago when his family‘s boat broke down and they began spending time in nearby Juneau.
“I’ve always been able to handle city life, no problem.” says Brown. “But I started hanging out with people who drank. They didn’t have a problem with it so while I was around them, I started drinking.”
The eldest Brown child says he began to make “bad choices”; he chose to stop drinking but picked up the habit again in the past year.
“I started drinking lightly and then it got to be more and more,” he says. “That’s when I saw the problem around the corner, and I didn’t want to be one of those guys.”
Brown was also conflicted about keeping his habit a secret from his parents and six younger siblings, who don’t drink – or, as Brown puts it, are “teetotalers.”
“There was a shame for feeling weak. I didn’t want to tell them that,” says Brown. “But my family trusts each other. We don’t have secrets, so it made me feel that I was more of a bad guy.”
• Look for Matt Brown’s story in the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
Brown says he only drank every few nights and never blacked out, but he decided he needed to kick his habit and entered an in-patient rehab center for 35 days this spring.
But choosing to enter rehab meant telling his family about his drinking. Brown says he first opened up to his second-youngest brother, Gabe, before telling the rest of his family.
“There was a lot of anxiety. It took a couple days to work up the guts to tell my parents,” he says. “But their support was unbelievable. It instantly made me feel better and like I could be successful on this journey.”
While in rehab, Brown says he concluded that he was not an alcoholic but was still abusing alcohol. He believes he could handle drinking socially again now, but he’s perfectly content to live a sober life.
“I learned a lot about myself in those 35 days. I’ve turned my weakness into a strength,” he says. “In life, we all get lost every now and then and have to find our way back. Not everyone makes it back, and I’m happy to be one of those who did.”
Alaskan Bush People airs Fridays (9 p.m. ET) on Discovery Channel.