Elizabeth Vargas: 'I Am an Alcoholic'

The "20/20" anchor talks to George Stephanopoulos about her rehabilitation.
3:00 | 01/24/14

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Transcript for Elizabeth Vargas: 'I Am an Alcoholic'
him. We do. We have a special story. Elizabeth vargas back tonight on "20/20." It was following time in rehab for alcoholism and yesterday I had a chance to sit down with her and talk about confronting that hard truth and coming back to work, life, family and love. You're an alcoholic. I am. I am an alcoholic. 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. It must have taken so much effort to keep that secret. The amount of energy I expended keeping that secret and keeping this problem hidden from view, hidden from my family, hidden from friends, from colleagues was exhausting. I mean, you and I have spent literally hundreds of hours this far apart anchoring live television. I would have never guessed this in a million years. I mean, George, it's a staggering burden to walk around with. And you become so isolated with the secret and so lonely because you can't tell anyone what's happening. And yet it was a fact of my life, you know, I've battled since I was a child. My dad went to Vietnam when I was 6 years old and I had panic attacks every single day when my mom would leave for work and I spent most of my childhood having almost daily panic attacks and most of my adulthood having a lot of panic and dealing with a lot of severe anxiety. I dealt with that anxiety and with the stress that anxiety brought by starting to drink. And it slowly escalated and got worse and worse. And 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. That's on one track and your life is on another. Yeah, it's one thing to report on it. It's another thing entirely to admit it because even to admit it to myself was admitting I thought that I was a failure. And you don't fail. No. So when you first asked the question, how do you tamp it down? I started thinking, well, you know, I'll only drink, you know, on weekends. 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. Did anyone, anyone close to you realize. My husband. My husband knew I had a problem. What did he say. What did he say. You have a problem. You're an alcoholic and it made me really angry. Really angry but he was right. So when mark first said something to you, did you immediately go and seek professional help. No. Go to rehab. No, it took a long time. I mean, denial is huge for any alcoholic, especially for any functioning alcoholic, because I'm not living under a bridge. I haven't been arrested. Getting to work every day. On a Saturday afternoon I showed up for a "20/20" shoot and I was in 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. Was wine your go to drink. Wine was my go to drink. A lot of wine. But how do you do that and, you know, you're a wife, a mother. Yeah. How, where, when? At night. That was a ritual. I should have realized it was a problem way back when Zachery my oldest son was born and used to call my nightly glass of wine "Mommy's juice" and I thought that was hysterical. It didn't occur to me that that was a problem. Anybody who knows about alcohol ism will tell you it's deadly. I had a panic on live television when I was anchoring in Chicago. Good evening. I had to take beta blockers because I was so nervous and so anxious and, you know, that's exhausting to live like that and it becomes very easy to think, I deserve this glass of wine. I'm so stressed out and I'm keeping it hidden. I can't tell anybody. Not even you sitting next to me. Wanted to do the job. I felt like I had to be perfect which is ridiculous. Nobody is perfect. So what happened? I went to a rehab that specializes in treating trauma. Ought did you stay. I stayed for 28 days and left against their advice and came home because I really wanted to come home and they said we think you need to do more work and I came home for five days and realized they were right and I went back and finished and stayed until the doctors there said I was ready to come back and, you know, this isn't what I want to be known for but I'm really proud of what I did. How did you know you were ready to come back, to come home? You know, it's -- it's a psychic change, I think. I mean it's learning to accept that I'm human, that there's nothing wrong with failing, that there's nothing wrong with feeling anxiety. Mark must be relieved too. Yeah. And my kids, you know, my kids too. What did you tell them? That my boys are 7 and 10 years old and classified by the -- Too scary. It's too scary. Disease is something deadly and even though alcoholism is, we did it that way and we explained that I was going away to get better and they came and visited me. I think they're okay. They're going to be okay. Is it hard not to drink? Yeah. Still. Right now I feel strong and I have a great support system in place. I'm part of aa. I have a sponsor. I have great, great friends who I love and who love me. What are your triggers? What are the stress points? You know, daily stress, you know, listen, there are lots of people who feel a lot of stress, not everybody turns to a glass of wine or three like I did or four like I did on some occasions. What I learned to do when I was away was to feel the feelings, you know what, they're not going to kill you. You have to experience them. But I never learned that skill and it's -- makes it tough some days. Alcohol for me is no longer an option. What are the tricks now? When you feel that what do you do instead? Call a friend. Meditate, pray. There's been a real spiritual component for me in all of this. Reach out to somebody who can talk you through that rotten day and support you in that. Telling your story, sharing it now, do you think it makes a difference in how you live your life? It's always embarrassing to have the entire world know your deepest, darkest secret and yet I think in the long term it will be ultimately a blessing because I can be free about it. Well, you look great. You sound great. Ready to get back to work? I am. I'm really ready to get back to work. Welcome back. You can see that freedom on her face. When she was here yesterday we were just -- it was just so great to see her and Amy and I know this especially and everyone here knows it but the two of us, the unconditional love she's going to get here, the unconditional love and support that she has. And that's a powerful thing, it makes you get through the day. So great to see her. It's so eloquent, you know, just so strong and I really feel like her words and her bravery is going to help a lot of people. A reminder too of all the good work aa has done for so long for so many people making such a big difference to her. My grandfather, I never knew him as an alcoholic. By the time I came along he was sober. And it was aa that helped him and I'm just thinking like all of us people at home right now listening to Elizabeth and knowing that they too may have that issue and that they will too find the strength. If you do, think how hard it was for her to come forward. But she did. And know -- She's on the Bert side of it now. See more of Elizabeth's story on "20/20" right here on ABC at 10:00 eastern.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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