"He spit on me," Houston told Winfrey. "He spit on me. He actually spit on me. And my daughter was coming down the stairs and she saw that."
The first of her highly publicized, two-part tell-all airs today on the 24th season premiere of "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Houston hasn't done a major TV interview since 2002, when she talked to ABC's Diane Sawyer.
"I took the phone and I hit him over the head with it," Houston said.
The anecdote was one of many disturbing tales the 46-year-old singing icon revealed about her past. While Houston contended that Brown was not physically abusive, she said, "He slapped me once and he got hit over the head."
"He slapped me, but he was on probation for traffic violations," she said. "You can't slap somebody if you're on probation. It went to domestic violence court."
Houston said she stood by Brown through the court hearings in 2004 because she "was his wife." Brown publicly maintains he never hit Houston; his representative declined ABCNews.com's request for further comment.
Emotional abuse, according to Houston, ran rampant. While Brown and Houston launched into a "passionate, loving ... crazy relationship" soon after meeting in 1989 and marrying in 1992, as her career exploded with the film and soundtrack for "The Bodyguard," he started acting out, she said. They eventually separated in 2006 and divorced the following year.
"I think somewhere inside, something happens to a man, when a woman has that much control," she told Winfrey.
Brown's alcoholism spiraled out of control, she added.
Houston: Cocaine, Marijuana Was Drug of Choice
"You've got to be a really nice alcoholic or a really mean one," Houston mused. "He was really mean. ... I would become this little girl, I wouldn't say anything."
Houston called Brown "her drug," adding that she "didn't do anything without him."
She also shed light on their actual substance abuse issues: marijuana laced with cocaine was their substance of choice, and they "would have ounces" of cocaine available at all times.
"You put [cocaine] in your marijuana, you lace it, you smoke it," she told Winfrey.
Houston's appearance on "Oprah" was timed to the Aug. 31 release of "I Look to You," her first studio album in seven years. Talking about why she took a break from the music industry, Houston said, "It was too much. So much to try to live up to, to try to be, and I wanted out."
"I Look to You" sold 304,000 copies in its first seven days on the market, sending Houston back to the top of the charts and giving her the best debut week of her career.