Country star Jo Dee Messina was as shocked as everybody else to learn she had become an alcoholic - because she had her first drink just five years ago.

Messina's drinking took hold after the 11 September (01) terrorist attacks on New York slowed the industry's ticket sales.

She was also driven to the bottle by the stresses of taking care of almost every detail in her life and the rows she had with her road manager and former fiance DON MAZQUIZ, whom she split from in February (04).

She tells America's PEOPLE magazine, "I grew up in a house in Holliston, Massachusetts, where there was no alcohol. I had my first drink, a glass of cabernet wine, when I was 29.

"I remember being in front of the tour bus and someone saying, 'Give it a shot. It tastes great.' It did, and it wasn't a problem - at first.

"As time went on, my tolerance built up. I could drink a bottle of wine and not feel anything.

"I didn't go around to bars dancing on tables. I never got behind the wheel. But it got progressively worse. People on the road with me were too afraid to say anything."

Messina finally entered a rehabilitation clinic in Sundance, Utah, in February (04), and is now living in a nearby rented cabin as an out-patient.

She adds, "I still will be the hardest-working woman in showbusiness. But I've slowed down a little bit."

23/04/2004 17:32