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Ben Affleck on Why He Drank: 'It Was Something I Was Doing to Avoid Painful Feelings'

Liz McNeil

Ben Affleck admits he did not make his new film, The Way Back, because he wanted to be a spokesperson on alcoholism. “Frankly,” he says, “I would have preferred to deal with that part of my life privately but that’s not the way my life is.”

The actor/director, 47, known for his passion and talent as a storyteller onscreen, is now telling his own story, about why he drank, his sobriety and how he found his own way back. He hopes that doing so will be another step towards erasing the stigma — and shame —surrounding the “addiction issues that have touched so many lives.”

“For me, it was a two pronged thing. I have a genetic component,” he says of his drinking to PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “Two of my grandparents were alcoholics. (As was his father, Timothy who has been sober for 30 years.) So it seemed like statistically the dice were kind of loaded.” (His brother Casey Affleck, now sober, is a former alcoholic also sober.)

RELATED: Ben Affleck Says ‘There’s a Lot of Alcoholism’ in His Family: That’s ‘Sometimes Hard to Shake’

Ben Affleck | Magdalena Wosinska/The New York Times/Redux

For more on Affleck, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

He says the pain surrounding his 2018 divorce from Jennifer Garner — with whom he has three children, Violet, 14, Seraphina, 11, and Sam, 8 — was also a factor.

“When my life got stressful, which principally had to do with the disappointment and the pain that the divorce caused my children, that affected me profoundly,” he says. “I didn’t want to see them hurt. I found myself drinking more and more at night at home by myself. It was something I was doing to avoid dealing with painful feelings. My parents got divorced when I was young. I know how painful that is.”

“I’ve experienced depression and anxiety,” he adds. “The psychological issues are not as well understood as addiction is now. Addiction has become more destigmatized, where mental health is more confusing and more elusive. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate ‘Something bad happened to me, so I feel bad’ versus ‘I’m feeling bad because something is not working right chemically in my brain.'”

The Way Back | Richard Foreman

Sharing his story has also had a positive side: “It’s liberating and kind of freeing not to have a secret or to feel shame about something.”

RELATED: Ben Affleck Says He Wishes His Relapse ‘Wasn’t on the Internet for My Kids to See’

He hopes people will be inspired by the film, a sports drama in which he plays a basketball coach struggling with alcoholism who’s brought back to his alma mater to coach a team fighting for a championship. In the end, he says, “It’s a human story.”

As is his. “My life has been full of blessings, and I’ve had some struggles — those things make up who we are.”

The Way Back opens March 6.