Elizabeth Vargas Opens Up About Her Alcoholism


In an interview aired on Good Morning America Friday, 20/20 host Elizabeth Vargas spoke with George Stephanopoulos about her trip to rehab for alcoholism and her history with the disease, explaining, “You become so isolated with the secret and so lonely, because you can’t tell anyone what’s happening.”

Vargas told Stephanopoulos that she’d always suffered from anxiety, even as a little girl. As she grew older, she started to try and combat that issue by drinking wine in the evenings and on weekends. She told herself that she “deserved” the drinks because she was working so hard and was so stressed. In truth, she felt she needed them to support her in her struggle towards perfection:

Vargas: I remember a few years ago I began to think, “Do I have a problem with this?” And I actually started reporting on it! I’ve done like a half dozen 20/20 hour long specials on drinking…it’s one thing to report on it, it’s another thing entirely to admit it. Because even admitting it to myself was admitting I thought that I was a failure.
Stephanopoulos: And you don’t fail.
Vargas: No.

Vargas’ husband was the one who encouraged her to get help, though she admits that when he told her he knew she was an alcoholic, she was incredibly angry and that it took her “a long time” to admit that she had a problem:

Denial is huge for any alcoholic, especially for any functioning alcoholic. Because I’m not living under a bridge! I haven’t been arrested! On a Saturday afternoon I showed up for a 20/20 shoot and I was in no shape to do that interview. When I got out of the car I realized, what am I doing? And that’s when I knew, I need to get help.

When Vargas did go to rehab, she told her young sons that it was because she had an “allergy” to alcohol, because she feared they would be too scared if she explained that it was a disease.

While Vargas is using Alcoholics Anonymous to keep herself sober, there are some who find the program less helpful, especially for women. As Gabrielle Glaser, the author of Her Best-Kept Secret: Why Women Drink – And How They Can Regain Control explained to Here and Now host Robin Young recently, anxiety, depression and wine are a common cocktail among women who drink too much:

Glaser: We know that women are far more likely to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders. They’re far more likely to have had eating disorders and to have been sexually abused. And those are four main risk factors for women.
Young: Well, and more and more woman are drinking. You’ve got some stats: They’re being stopped more for drunken driving than they were two decades ago; biggest consumers of wine.
Glaser: Absolutely. They buy about 70 percent of the 800 million gallons of wine sold in the United States every year, and they drink the lion’s share of that. They are – middle-aged women are checking in more frequently to alcohol rehab programs, and that’s very, very telling because it’s very hard for middle-aged women with kids at home to disappear for a month.

For some people (not just women), living life completely sober isn’t the answer. As Joe Berkowitz wrote in a piece for BuzzFeed recently, for him, learning to drink in moderation was better than cutting it out completely:

Not drinking for two and a half years gave me the gift of never having to think about controlling myself. Starting again brought back the recurring epiphany that I need to be more present and aware in all my appetites. I haven’t figured out exactly how yet, but maybe learning to do it with alcohol will force me to do it with everything.

Though a huge number of the comments on Berkowitz’s piece are highly critical of his tactics, his is a strategy that become more acceptable in recent years. That’s partially because of ongoing criticism of AA’s program. Some find the “anonymous” part of AA difficult, unrealistic, and an unnecessary part of getting sober.

But for Vargas, AA and rehab were what she needed to get and stay sober – and that’s what’s important. Like many diseases, there are numerous strategies to combat alcoholism. The more we learn about it, the more it becomes apparent that there are lots of doctor-recommended programs and tactics that work depending on the circumstances or severity of a person’s addiction. It’s not a one-size-fits-all illness.

That being said, the patterns of behavior alcoholics display are still strikingly similar, and the feelings expressed are universal. “This isn’t what I want to known for, but I’m really proud of what I did,” Vargas told Stephanopoulos, before he asked her if it was still hard to keep from drinking. In a tone that suggested half “of course,” half “duh,” Vargas replied, “Yeah.”

Image via ABC

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