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ABC News’ 20/20 co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas returned to the network on Friday to open up to George Stephanopoulos about her battle with alcoholism and her struggles to hide her secret from her family.
“I am an alcoholic,” the 51-year-old Vargas admitted in the interview that aired on Good Morning America on Friday. “It took me a long time to admit that to myself. It took me a long time to admit it to my family, but I am.”
“The amount of energy I expended keeping that secret and keeping this problem hidden from view was exhausting,” she revealed, admitting that she had even gone so far as to report for hourlong specials on 20/20 about drinking without anyone knowing that she had a problem. “Even to admit it to myself was admitting, I thought, that I was a failure,” Vargas confessed.
In the interview with Stephanopoulos, Vargas detailed the slippery slope that led her to realize that she needed help.
“I started thinking, ‘Well, you know, I’ll only drink, you know, on weekends,” she explained. “I’ll only drink, you know, two glasses of wine a night. I won’t drink on nights before I have to get up and do Good Morning America. But those deals never work.”
Soon her drinking became a “staggering burden” to carry, she said. “You become so isolated with the secret and so lonely, because you can’t tell anyone what’s happening.”
While she managed to hide it from friends and co-workers, her husband, singer-songwriter Marc Cohn, wasn’t fooled, she revealed, and he told her: “You have a problem. You’re an alcoholic,” according to Vargas, adding that his words “made me really angry, really angry. But he was right.”
“I mean, denial is huge for any alcoholic, especially for a functioning alcoholic, because I, you know, I’m not living under a bridge. I haven’t been arrested,” she said.
But when she showed up for a 20/20 shoot one day and realized she was “in no shape to do that interview,” Vargas said she knew the time had come to address the issue head-on.
The mother of two said she had first begun to develop panic attacks as a child after her father went off to serve in the Vietnam War and her own mother went to work, and that anxiety continued into adulthood.
“I dealt with that anxiety, and with the stress that the anxiety brought, by starting to drink. And it slowly escalated and got worse and worse,” she told GMA.
After finally revealing her battles with alcoholism, the longtime reporter, who has been in network news since 1993, first with NBC and then with ABC, checked into a rehab facility last fall and is now a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Following her treatment, Vargas will resume her duties and return to the air on Friday night as the co-anchor of 20/20.
“I have a sponsor. I have great, great friends who I love and who love me,” she said. “Alcohol for me is no longer an option.”
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