"I definitely experimented, and I know now at 40 looking back that I had a really dark time in my life when I split from my family and moved out," she said

By Eric Todisco
December 10, 2019 05:22 PM

Jeannie Mai is opening up about trying drugs after running away from home in her younger years.

During Tuesday’s episode of The Real, co-host Adrienne Houghton asked Mai, 40, what made her curious to experiment with drugs in the past.

“I definitely experimented, and I know now at 40 looking back that I had a really dark time in my life when I split from my family and moved out, lived in San Francisco … like, every drug you can imagine was there … and honestly, it replaced the joy that I didn’t have,” she said. “So it made me — being high was so much more ‘fun’ because it felt like, ‘Oh, I feel special, I feel like a rock star, I feel loved.’ ”

“You say anything you want to say, you’re fearless … and then that crash — that crash is what made me realize that it was darker than the pain that I actually had in my life,” Mai added. “And that led me to go,’ Oh, shoot, this ain’t for me.’ Because that pit — yo, it’s the dark place. It’s not a place you want to go.”

Mai also discussed how many song lyrics include casual references to drugs.

“I mean we’re at the club singing, ‘Molly, Percocet,’ like this is so easy, but we’re talking about things that actually kill you,” she said.

Jeannie Mai
| Credit: Paul Archuleta/Getty

“And kids don’t know what it is, so they’re looking it up and then when they hear it, they’re like, ‘Oh, this matches that song, with that artist that looks so cool…’ ” Mai added.

Houghton, 36, pointed out music like that “normalizes taking drugs,” and the audience applauded. Cohost Tamera Mowry-Housley then asked Mai if she realized the dangers in drugs when she did them.

“I was rebellious, so I knew I was doing bad,” she explained. “Like, you almost love the fact that you are defying what you are supposed to do. Like when you, I don’t know, cross the street between the crosswalk, if you veer off and you — I have this thing in me where I just always go the … I’m a little naughty. I like to take the naughty route.”

The Real
| Credit: Robert Voets/Warner Bros

“But that was dangerous because it actually risked my life,” she continued. “And so today, I still pay consequences for being naughty. I still have to check myself and go, ‘Was that really worth it?” Or in the moment how do I turn on that filter to know that that put myself in danger or risk situations that I’m in.”

Added Mai: “And that took maturity, but you shouldn’t have to wait until you’re a grown woman because you might not get there!”

Mai herself is dating a recording artist: rapper and philanthropist Jeezy, with whom she spent her first Thanksgiving with last month.

“It was an unforgettable, surreal moment,” she said on The Real last month. “It was the first time that we obviously spent Thanksgiving together, and to be able to have an intimate dinner with his family. They’re all such lovely people, and they’re fun.”

RELATED VIDEO: How The Real’s Jeannie Mai Overcame Being Abused at 9 — and Forgave Her Mom for Not Believing Her

Mai recently opened up exclusively to PEOPLE about running away from her parents’ house in San Jose, California, at the age of 16 after being sexually abused by a family member for five years. She fled to San Francisco, where she took a job as a makeup artist at a strip club, paying $50 a month (plus home-cooked fried rice every other Sunday) to crash on a pair of drag queens’ couch. Then, she landed a job at Mac Cosmetics, where she rubbed elbows with celebrities. After an internship at a local station and move to Los Angeles, she pivoted to TV, hosting fashion shows before joining The Real in 2013.

“I’m not afraid to be homeless, because I’ve been there. I’m not afraid to lose money, because I started out poor,” she says of the life lessons that have benefitted her. “I’m not afraid to not have love, because I have the love inside of me.”

The Real airs weekdays (check local listings).