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Are You A High-Functioning Alcoholic? with Chris Browning

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Character actor Chris Browning’s career was just beginning to take off when his personal demons began to emerge. Although he had been a high-functioning alcoholic since the age of 15, his social anxiety, genetic predisposition, and turbulent family life ultimately turned him towards more dangerous habits. In this first episode of a series with the actor, Chris tells Tana how his earlier years in the acting world both helped and hindered him in his struggle for sobriety.

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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics where we have been transforming lives for 30 years. Using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit amenclinics.com.
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to brainmd.com.
So I'm so excited to introduce our guest today. Chris Browning. This is such a fun treat for me. So I met you Chris on the set with my daughter. I was actually doing the stage mom thing.
Chris Browning: Doing the stage mom thing.
Tana Amen: I was and Chris doesn't need a whole lot of introduction, but I'm going to do it anyways.
Chris Browning: Yeah, yeah.
Tana Amen: I know you've, you've seen Chris, you're probably sitting there if you're watching this thinking, "I know that guy. Where do I know this guy from?" He was in Angel Has Fallen. And then you recently did Outlaw Johnny Black. That's not out yet, right?
Chris Browning: Yeah.
Tana Amen: Greenlight Healer, Book of Eli. That was a great movie. Bright with Will Smith, The One Hundred, Sons of Anarchy, Westworld, BOSH. And I can't even... Like the list is way too long. But those were just some of the more recent, larger things you've done. Correct?
Chris Browning: Yeah. Yeah.
Tana Amen: So you've done a lot.
Chris Browning: Yeah, I've done a lot. I've been lucky.
Tana Amen: You've had a very big career in Hollywood.
Chris Browning: Well, yeah.
Tana Amen: Yeah. So the thing that I noticed when I met you is that you were so humble and so nice, and then you start telling me your story and I was floored. So you're very open about your story, which is, I'm so grateful that you wanted to come here and share it.
Chris Browning: Oh yeah, I mean, I tell my story to anybody that'll listen, you know?
Tana Amen: So let's start from the beginning because what I heard was I heard, I mean this is the only thing I heard was I went from being pretty successful living in Malibu at a beach house, to living under the 405 Freeway. And I was like, wait, what?
Chris Browning: Yeah, that's, that's my opener.
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Chris Browning: Yeah. And I always, always, my, my old joke is that I tried, cause I tried heroin once for six years.
Tana Amen: Yeah. And so our listeners know my story. I have a lot of childhood trauma from heroin, not me, but my family. An uncle who was murdered in a drug deal and just a lot of stuff, a lot of baggage with it. So your story was so interesting to me, sort of the other side of it and just interesting how you came back. I love the comeback. So talk to me about it.
Chris Browning: Yeah, yeah me too.
Tana Amen: Yeah. Tell our listeners.
Chris Browning: Yeah, I said I had been working, you know, I was always a drunk. No, I was though.
Tana Amen: Interesting.
Chris Browning: A highly functioning alcoholic. I was that guy that you had to tell me what I did last night.
Tana Amen: Oh, when did that start?
Chris Browning: When I was 15.
Tana Amen: Okay.
Chris Browning: Yeah. And I was the guy, I was the guy that got drunker than anybody else and stuff. But I, I still, you know, I did well in school. I played sports and played college football and... in college I guess the wheels kind of started to come off there, you know.
But I ended up going to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts after college because I decided I wanted to write screenplays. So I was working in a warehouse with this guy who said " had a friend," we were up in Reno, just bombing around partying and working, having a... Working in a warehouse. And I told him and he said, "Yeah, I had a buddy that got in that business and he went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.! So I said, "Cool, I'm doing that." And, so I got into the American Academy, quit my job, moved down to LA and, and I remember talking to the director of the school and saying, well, I want to focus primarily on screenwriting. And, and she's like, what the hell are you talking about? You know, this is a... It's a theater school, here's your schedule, focus on this.
You know, and I thought I'd a major and minor and thing. No, everybody has the same schedule, this is it. Welcome aboard. And it was all actor stuff and I was terrified. I didn't know where I was.
Tana Amen: Really?
Chris Browning: Yeah I very shy, because I was always the new guy. I went to like 12 schools when I was growing up.
Tana Amen: Oh interesting so you moved a lot.
Chris Browning: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tana Amen: You also mentioned that you're, you have a history of substance abuse in your family.
Chris Browning: Yeah, my mom's an alcoholic. She died. Was 40 years sober. She went to her first meeting and whatever, 1974 or something and just put 40 years together. Just got it on the first try.
Tana Amen: But genetically you already had that, you were sort of predisposed.
Chris Browning: Yeah. Yeah I come-
Tana Amen: And you also had some marks growing up from what I understand is from the environment.
Chris Browning: Yeah. I mean, I think, divorce... and I remember my... Kind of, kind of raising my little sister, when I was five years old. I can remember, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for my kid sister, because mom was always in bed. She was just, she was a stay in bed mom. And I mean, it wasn't like she was abusive or anything. She just was.
Tana Amen: Checked out.
Chris Browning: Checked out, and yeah. So I kind of remember taking care of my little sister from a pretty young age and... But she got sober when I was nine, I think. But by then, it was already screwed up. But I don't know. I think... I was always that... I could schedule my alcoholism. I could get... I was functioning.
Tana Amen: So that's what you meant by functional.
Chris Browning: Yeah.
Tana Amen: So you could decide not to drink when you needed to not drink.
Chris Browning: Yeah.
Tana Amen: And then just party hard when you did?
Chris Browning: Yeah. Yeah. And it just worked. I didn't have hangovers in those days. I'd go out and drink and party all night long and then have a football game the next day and I'd be fine.
Tana Amen: Wow.
Chris Browning: Yeah. But then... And I went to the Academy. I was terrified the whole first year because I was there with all these kids who were actors. They'd been doing it since they were little. So they had this whole actor persona thing that I didn't know what that was. I'd never seen these people before. I was a jock. I came from football and these people were all like wearing black and smoking and talking about John Malkovich instead... I didn't even know who that was.
Tana Amen: Very artsy.
Chris Browning: Yeah. I don't know who John Malkovich was. And they'd say, we're tomorrow... We're going to want everybody off book. We're going to start blocking. And I'm like, what's off book? What's blocking? I don't have any idea.
Tana Amen: So they'd been doing this a long time.
Chris Browning: Yeah. They all knew it. They knew the lingo. They'd been doing theater. I didn't know anything. So the first year I just made sure I knew my lines. I was really good at memorization and that was about it and... but something, they saw something because, well they have these exam plays at the end of the first year to decide who they're going to take back because they only invite a quarter of the students back for a second year. And, I played John Proctor in The Crucible and-
Tana Amen: Oh, interesting.
Chris Browning: And that was like the first time that I ever got that, feedback that... the audience, and I had people I didn't know in the theater coming up and hugging me with tears in their eyes and things like that.
And I was like, okay, I want this.
Tana Amen: You liked it.
Chris Browning: Yeah. Then it was like the only time it was the first time I was ever comfortable in my own skin.
Tana Amen: Oh interesting.
Chris Browning: Like I was my... My scariest moment of the day in high school was taking my tray up. You know, at the end of lunch you have to take up your tray and put this thing in the dish... Dirty dish thing and the silverware and that thing and put the tray and you know. Because it was at the cross... across the cafeteria. We were always at this one corner table, and just kind of zigzagging through all those tables I just felt eyes on me. I just was like, "Oh don't fall down. Don't..." You know, I was just so self absorbed and self conscious that it was... I couldn't stand. Like I really... Which you know, that kind of insecurity, is really just ego. That I thought people were so concerned and obsessed with watching me do anything. Nobody cares. But I didn't know that. I thought, Oh it's going to.
Tana Amen: Yeah. We have a, we have something called the 18, 40, 60 rule. It's like when you're 18 you think everyone is watching you and thinking about you and you're so concerned about it. When you are 40 you don't give a damn what people think about you. When you're 60 you realize no one's been thinking about you. They're all thinking about themselves.
Chris Browning: Yeah. Yeah.
Tana Amen: But do you think that that was part of what drew you to drinking or maybe later substance abuse? Was that discomfort with yourself?
Chris Browning: Yeah,
Yeah, that's how I got comfortable. When I said like on the stage, that was the first time that I was ever comfortable in my own skin, not drunk.
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Chris Browning: I marveled at people who could go to a bar and go, let's see, "Should I have... You know what I think, what do you have that on tap? I'll have that." You know, and they order their first drink of the day in a bar, a crowded bar. No way. No way could I do. I had to have a 12 pack in me just to go in there.
Tana Amen: Oh, you're kidding.
Chris Browning: Oh... all those people and no way. I could not go into a crowded...
Tana Amen: So a little bit of social anxiety is what I'm hearing.
Chris Browning: Yeah. Little bit. And... but in that... So that time on stage was the first time that I was like, wow, I was just totally comfortable in my own skin and I don't have any booze in me. And that's why I want that. And I kept that, I respected that too. It was one of those things that I was like, never, I'm never going to do this loaded. I'm not arrogant. Just because that's a sacred thing for me and I'm just not going to ever work wasted. Yeah. That was my rule.
Tana Amen: So you, so you became pretty successful after school?
Chris Browning: I did, but you know, I mean I broke my rule quickly because I got a lead in a mini series in Russia and I spent 13 months in Russia being there.
Tana Amen: And you like vodka?
Chris Browning: Oh my god. But it was... I couldn't even stand out as an alcoholic there because everybody was drunk. It was like you could, there wasn't even a hidden thing. Their camera truck was like a rolling bar.
Tana Amen: Wow.
Chris Browning: If you couldn't find Chris Brown-
Tana Amen: On set?
Chris Browning: Yeah.
Tana Amen: That's crazy.
Chris Browning: You could drink as long as you could do your job. Nobody cared. So sometimes guys would get so sloppy, they couldn't do their job and they'd get fired. But...
Tana Amen: Wow.
Chris Browning: But yeah, it was... If you couldn't find me, go look in the camera truck, that's where you'd find me in there.
Tana Amen: Oh wow. So that was when you broke that rule.
Chris Browning: That's when I broke that rule. But then it was that... my sister had died and from this disease and I just had some survivor guilt and I just... I took it into a to a whole nother gear at that point where people would say, "Man, you keep going like that, you're going to die." And I'd say, "When? Bring it." You know, cause I've been trying to do it like every day and I can't seem to make it work. So yeah. So yeah.
Tana Amen: Ouch.
Chris Browning: And I... Plus it was, it was action stuff, you know, it wasn't like we're sitting there having a deep conversation across a table like this. It wasn't a Pinter play, you know, it was, it was action. It was underwater and stuff.
Tana Amen: Alcohol and water, no.
Chris Browning: And you're swimming in the Black Sea in February and there's snow on this, on the bank and I'm swimming around fighting a fake shark or something.
And they would give me... Get out of the water and they put vodka on you, they pour vodka and rub it on your skin. And I'm like, that's cold. Oh wait, no, it's not it's warming me up.
Tana Amen: Interesting.
Chris Browning: In a physics thing. Yeah.
Tana Amen: That's so crazy.
Chris Browning: Yeah. Because you know, when alcohol evaporates it's cool.
Tana Amen: When it's evaporating it brings... right. But it brings your blood to the surface.
Chris Browning: Yeah. Is that what it's doing? Yeah, it worked. And so they're pouring it in me and on me and there was... Nobody was going to go, "That guy seems like he's had a couple.! No, he's fallen off a horse. He's fighting with flaming torches. Nobody could tell. I had a little booze in me. And so...
Tana Amen: So, you tried drugs for the first time, did it start with drugs or did it start with painkillers?
Chris Browning: I guess it started with painkillers. Yeah. Because what happened, I came back and that's really where I got... Before I went to Russia, I finished at the Academy and then I was waiting tables and thrilled to get like two words on Saved By The Bell or something, or five lines on Matlock. And I was like, "Oh my, I've made it." And so, I was a waiter. That's basically what I was, and I got the Russia thing. That was a 12 hour mini series that was like starring in eight movies because I was the lead. But then that left me with a bunch of money and a bunch of free time. And because you only work six months a year. And I was just... I had a back issue that put me on, Norco or one of the hydrocodones, Loracet, Lortab, and that was my routine. I got six a day of those. So I would drink, I would drink like a 12 pack of beer every night. So I was kind of a kind of a chunky monkey.
I was cute and I exercise a lot. I knew so little about nutrition or like someone that runs and, and does elliptical in the gym as much as me. Why am I so fat? And it's like, because you drink a 12 pack of beer every day you dumb ass.
And I'm like, "Well I really sweat when I run." Yeah. That's the alcohol pouring out of your pores. So I didn't know much and so I had a schedule, I would just... I could drink all night because I have rehearsal the next day. I could just pop six of those Loracet.
Tana Amen: At once?
Chris Browning: Yeah that's what I did. I just took, instead of taking 10 milligrams, I took 60 milligrams and that took any hang over away that I had.
Tana Amen: Dear lord.
Chris Browning: And then I'd go to work and then by the end of the day I'm ready to start drinking again.
Tana Amen: So like a vicious cycle. You were trying to recover from drinking by taking?
Chris Browning: Yeah. I would endure the back pain later on that day.
Tana Amen: So you're taking opiates to deal with the alcohol.
Chris Browning: The hangover.
Tana Amen: Oh wow. Okay.
Chris Browning: Yeah. I'd rather be in pain all afternoon than have a hangover in the morning.
Tana Amen: Oh wow. So that was the start of a really bad cycle.
Chris Browning: Yeah. Yeah. And then, and then on, on the weekends I would smoke cocaine. I would go, I'll go buy an eight ball and...
Tana Amen: So this started pretty soon after you got out of school.
Chris Browning: Yeah.
Tana Amen: So you're having some success, you're making some money, but that money is starting to go to not so good things.
Chris Browning: Yeah. And I would just like.... any free time I had, I just pissed it away being loaded.
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Chris Browning: We always... In Russia we had a volleyball game for the cast and crew and stuff every Saturday. And I went to like three of them because I was a mess from the night before. Yeah. I'm in bed. If I'm up, I'm certainly not playing volleyball because I got to where I would drink... The bottles there are half-liter, half-liter vodka and they had like this, this a foil thing that you kind of pull and it just kind of rips it apart and comes... There's no way to reseal them. It's disposable, it's a half a liter is not to be saved, and I would... I got to where that's what I was doing. I'd, I'd wake up with one of those.
Tana Amen: Oh wow.
Chris Browning: I take a big drink of juice and chug the whole half liter and then throw the rest of that juice on top of it all in one breath. And then I just sit there and wait for that burn and be like, "Okay, I'm ready."
Tana Amen: Oh, you're killing me right now. All right, well when we come back, I want to like get into the part where you end up under the 405 Freeway when we... In our next episode.
Chris Browning: Okay.
Tana Amen: All right. Thanks. We'll be back with Chris Browning.
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