'20/20' Anchor Elizabeth Vargas Talks Alcoholism, Anxiety

By McCarton Ackerman 09/12/16

"There are days where you wake up and you feel so horrible that the only thing that will make you feel better is more alcohol."

20/20 Anchor Elizabeth Vargas Talks Alcoholism, Anxiety
Photo via ABC News/YouTube

20/20 anchor Elizabeth Vargas sat down with fellow ABC News colleague Diane Sawyer for an exclusive interview that aired last Friday, admitting that the stress of live television was what led her to nearly drinking herself to death.

Vargas details her alcoholism and relatively recent recovery in her new memoir, Between Breaths. In the special 20/20 interview, she told Sawyer that she had developed crippling anxiety centered around her job and used wine to calm her nerves.

"There are days when you wake up and you feel so horrible that the only thing that will make you feel better is more alcohol," said Vargas. "I remember anchoring the evening news, and every single night when the floor manager would count down, I hated it. 'Two minutes!' And my heart would start pounding. 'One minute!' Now I'm like hyperventilating. 'Thirty seconds!' And literally the studio, the edges of my vision, would start to swim a little."

Vargas acknowledged that her alcohol problem “knocked me flat on my butt,” and admitted there were times she consumed what she knew were lethal amounts of alcohol. At her worst, she hid bottles of wine underneath her bathroom sink. But she said the most painful aspect of reflecting on her alcoholism was knowing the damage it caused to her two children.

“I wouldn’t give a nanosecond’s worth of thought to die for my children, to kill for my children,” she said. “But I couldn’t stop drinking for my children. "I don’t know if I will ever forgive myself for hurting them with my drinking, ever … Because I didn’t physically endanger my children doesn’t mean I didn’t devastate them or put them in danger emotionally or psychologically.”

She went to rehab in 2012 after a nearly fatal blackout, but began drinking again just six months later. Several other stints in rehab also didn’t take, but her most recent one in August 2014 did. After ABC News granted her unpaid time off, Vargas received constant supervision that included living at a sober house and regular testing for alcohol. Slowly but surely, she began to address the underlying causes of her alcoholism.

But it wasn’t enough to save her marriage. In her memoir, she revealed that her husband of 12 years began the process of divorcing her while she was in rehab and without her knowledge. She told People that the situation “was brutally difficult. I think anyone can imagine what that felt like.”

However, Vargas has since recovered in her personal life and her career. She says she's grateful for her job at ABC News and being given the chance to do what she loves.

“Thank God they gave me one more chance … many employers wouldn’t have,” she said. “I still love it. I love telling people’s stories.”

Check back on Tuesday for The Fix's interview with Elizabeth Vargas.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.