Luann de Lesseps Says PTSD from a Car Crash That Nearly Killed Her Kids Caused Her to Drink

"I had PTSD, and I didn't even know it," Real Housewives of New York star Luann de Lesseps tells PEOPLE

Luann de Lesseps says that revisiting the location of her 2016 wedding to Tom D’Agostino, which ended in divorce seven months later, contributed to her decision to drink too much — which led to he arrest on charges of disorderly intoxication, battery on an officer, resisting arrest with violence and threatening a public servant on Christmas Eve.

But when she sought treatment after the arrest, the Real Housewives of New York star, 52, realized there was another event that factored into her drinking problem: a car accident she’d gotten into in 1999, when her children Victoria and Noel were just 4 and 2.

“I came down a mountainside in Switzerland,” she tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue, on stands Friday. “I thought I killed myself and my children. I never really faced that horrific accident, and through that and everything else, my emotions just crept up on me and drove me to the point of self-medicating with alcohol. People think it’s just about Tom. It’s not just about Tom.”

Desiree Navarro/WireImage
Desiree Navarro/WireImage

Following her divorce from the 51-year-old businessman, who she realized wouldn’t give up his “bachelor lifestyle,” de Lesseps began consuming at least seven alcoholic beverages a day.

“I would start with a martini and maybe have two martinis and then get into the wine at dinner,” she reveals. “Then I’d have a little bit of vodka soda before going out. I would have the hair-of-the-dog drink the next day, and drink more, and it didn’t feel good.”

RELATED VIDEO: Luann de Lesseps Checks Herself into Alcohol Treatment Center After Palm Beach Arrest

Eventually. de Lesseps admits, “Alcohol just stopped working for me.” There was something more to the pain.

“I had PTSD, and I didn’t even know it because all those years ago PTSD was not a real thing, especially in Europe,” says the reality star, who attended high school in Berlin, worked in Milan and married her first husband, European aristocrat Count Alexandre de Lesseps, in 1993. “Nobody had ever heard of PTSD when I had my car accident. I never really treated that horrific accident that happened to me.”

Since leaving rehab, de Lesseps hasn’t been tempted to have a drink, though she hasn’t sworn off alcohol for good.

  • For more on Luann de Lesseps, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday

“Will I drink again? I don’t know,” she says. “I miss good red wine. Not to say that I’ll never have good red wine again. Who knows where we’ll all be tomorrow. For today, that’s the choice that I’m making for myself.”

De Lesseps will appear on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen on Wednesday at 11 p.m. ET, and The Real Housewives of New York City airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo.

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