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(In 2007 Jane Carter told Vanity Fair that “certain things happened and it almost destroyed our family” but stopped short of specifying how it affected Carter, who did not want to discuss Pearlman with PEOPLE.) By 2003 Carter’s parents had split, and a tug-of-war over Aaron, a teen pop star, ensued; at one point Aaron considered filing for legal emancipation.

He also accused his mother, who comanaged him for 10 years, of stealing 0,000 from him. Yet the turmoil led to Carter being estranged from his parents and siblings at various points throughout the years.

“Sometimes the last people you want to take advice from are the people closest to you,” says bandmate Howie Dorough, 35. When he was scolded, rather than motivating him, he curled up and crawled into a darker hole.” Carter’s drinking wasn’t the only thing out of control: Although a teenage diet of fast food and candy meant Carter had always been “a little bit overweight,” in 2006 he hit an all-time high of 224 lbs., a direct result of his partying.

“Once you get this condition, it can get progressively worse until the heart is extremely weak,” says Dr. “But if he abstains from alcohol and other substances, I think we can get his heart back to normal.” Today Carter is sober, living in a two-story, colonial-style home just outside Nashville (“I had to get away from the temptations” in L.

A., he explains) and in the best shape of his life.

“Healthwise, I was feeling gross, getting bigger,” says the 6-ft. He recalls a particularly raucous night of partying in Hollywood that fall, during which he and a friend “did a bunch of blow” before deciding to take a bus back to his place.

“We were walking past a school the next morning, and we look like zombies, and I just remember these kids looking at me, and I felt so disgusted.” The episode prompted Carter to seek help, enrolling in an outpatient treatment program.