"I never really had a desire for the drugs, but being an addict, to me, that word encompasses everything," the 42-year-old entertainer began. "I was introduced to cocaine literally the night that we shot the video for 'The Call.' It was the first time I ever tried it because it was a late-night shoot. I was with a 'friend' at the time -- who's clearly not a friend anymore -- and offered it to me. I said, 'No.' Then I caved and I did it."
"When I showed up on set and I got in the makeup chair, I told everybody," he continued. "I was like, 'I'm freaking out. I'm on this. I'm on that.' They were like, 'You need to stop. Don't tell the world that you're on drugs right now.'"
"Somehow someway, I kept it a secret from everyone for the next at least 18 months before the boys caught on, before my family caught on, before my real friends caught on. I found a way to really keep it under the rug."
In July 2001, the other members of Backstreet Boys -- Nick Carter, Brian Littrell, Howie Dorough and Kevin Richardson -- managed to convince AJ to seek treatment.
"The most crucial part of that conversation was the final thing Kevin said to me -- If I continued using, he said, 'I will never trust you again. You're dead to me.'"
For the next 20 years, however, AJ would continue using drugs and alcohol between bouts of sobriety.
"I would go to bed when the sun was rising and I would wake up when the sun was down," he said of his time abusing substances. "Like they say, the definition of insanity, repeating the same mistakes over and over expecting different results."
"I thought drugs and alcohol would make those feelings of insecurity go away," he added. "But it doesn't work that way."
Calling it his "moment of surrender," AJ said he began to turn his life around after one fateful trip last December, when he partied in Las Vegas.
"I knew where I was going to go get my drugs. I knew where I was going to go get drunk. I knew all of it and I figured, 'Okay, it's one night. As long as I don't go past a certain time and I don't smell like it, I can go have a nice last hurrah and then come back home. My wife won't know; everything's going to be great.'"
But it didn't work out that way. AJ missed a few return flights and eventually got home reeking of booze.
"What really hit me was the moment my youngest daughter, Lyric, said to me that night, 'You don't smell like my daddy.' And when she said that to me, that was it. Enough said. I felt disgusting."
Now AJ said he balances his precious family time with a 12-step program and checking in with a sponsor six times a day.
"The silver lining of the pandemic for me is that I can really work on myself, get to a meeting every day and build a foundation of recovery before going back on tour next year," he explained. "As hard as it is to say, I have zero regrets and am beyond lucky to still be here. I can genuinely say I love myself today."