Elizabeth Vargas: Her Battle with Alcohol Addiction

Act 5: ABC News' Elizabeth Vargas returns to "20/20" and reveals her recovery from alcoholism.
3:00 | 01/24/14

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Transcript for Elizabeth Vargas: Her Battle with Alcohol Addiction
us after a brave journey. Reporter: This morning, on "Good morning America," Elizabeth's return. We are thrilled to be welcoming back Elizabeth vargas to ABC news. Reporter: After bravely tackling a very personal struggle, she shared with viewers something she knows many families have also faced. I guess the best way to do this is to get right to it. Uh-huh. 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, and I think part of the reason it's hard to admit it is I had a lot of shame and a lot of guilt about it. 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. Reporter: And when Elizabeth took time off to get help, her private battle suddenly became a very public one. I didn't choose to go public with this. Somebody else made that decision for me. But, in hindsight and in retrospect, maybe it's a blessing because it relieves me of that secrecy and that burden of walking around through life living behind a facade, which is what you do. Reporter: She says the alcoholism stems in part from another struggle, one that has shadowed her since childhood growing up in a military family, severe, crippling anxiety as a little girl that set in the day her father was called to duty in a faraway war. 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. Reporter: And her mother told me, she remembers it, too. Did you see the anxiety attacks as a little girl? Yes, I clearly saw them. And every morning when I would leave to go to work, she would cry and beg me not to go. And it was hard for her. It was heartbreaking for me. Her daddy was gone, and she didn't want her mommy to leave, so I think the anxiety started then and probably carried with her forever in one form or another. Reporter: Even with her steady hand at the anchor desk, lids Beth now says the anxiety and panic were always close behind. And at some point along the way I dealt with that anxiety and with the stress that that anxiety brought by starting to drink, and it slowly escalated and got worse and worse. I should've realized it was a problem way back when Zachary, my oldest son, was born. And he used to call my nightly glass of wine "Mommy's juice." I thought that was hysterical. It didn't occur to me that that was a problem. And it didn't really get to be a huge problem until the last few years. And I actually started reporting on it. I've done, like, a half dozen "20/20" hour-long specials on drinking, specifically women and drinking and mothers and drinking. These women who opened their lives to us. Reporter: Elizabeth says over time, she realized she shared something in common with many of the brave people she had interviewed. You make all sorts of deals with yourself. 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'll only drink, you know, I won't drink on nights before I have to get up and do 'good morning, America.'" but those deals never work, and you're only fooling yourself. Reporter: Perhaps fooling herself, but she says not her husband, singer/songwriter Marc Cohn. My husband knew I had a problem. What'd he say? "You have a problem. You're an alcoholic." And it made me really angry, really angry, but he was right. And it took me a long time to finally accept that. It took a long time. I mean, denial is huge for any alcoholic, especially for any functioning alcoholic. Reporter: She says the denials all came to an end on a Saturday afternoon when she arrived at a shoot for work. When I got out of the car, I realized, "What am I doing? I am in no shape to do this. I need -- " and that's when I knew, "I need to get help." I went to a rehab that specializes in treating trauma. They don't just deal with drinking or drug use, in the case of others there. They deal with why you're drinking. What is it you're trying to cover up? What is it you're trying to numb? Reporter: A devoted mom, she was very aware of the toll on her family, on her boys. And we explained that I was going away to get better. And they came and visited me, and they got to see where I was staying and meet the doctors there and ride a horse. Reporter: She came home before doctors wanted her to, and soon realized she had more work to do. And I went back and finished and stayed until the doctors there said I was ready to come back. And I, you know, this isn't what I want to be known for. But I'm really proud of what I did. And I feel so much better now, not having to walk around with this enormous burden. Reporter: And this evening, also watching her, too. Her parents, mom and dad, rooting for their her daughter in her brave fight to get back. You've been with Elizabeth as she returns to work this week. And you've seen how all of us are quite proud of her. And I was just curious how a mom feels watching her return? And coming forward like this is not easy. And I think we're especially proud of that. Reporter: You know, she said that she never wanted to be the face of this. But that if in doing this she could help just one person -- You know, David, we heard from so many people after it became public what she was dealing with. We were really astonished. And we're very proud of her for saying, "I'm going to talk about it and tell people about it and tell people what I've been through, how it happened, and how I got there, and how I'm back here." Reporter: And then get back to work. Get back to work. Reporter: In typical Elizabeth fashion. In typical Elizabeth fashion, right, yes. It's always embarrassing to have the entire world know your deepest, darkest secret. And yet, at the same time I think it'll be a relief. I think in the long term, it will be ultimately a blessing because I can be free about it. I'm not hiding anymore, and that's hard, but it's also a relief. So thaw Yo can be free about it. You heard me talk to your mom right there. You had never wanted to be the face of really anything like this, but you said this, it was powerful that if you could help one person it would be worth it. I didn't seek help for a long time because I had so much shame and guilt around this. I'm amazed by how many people reached out and said they have a family member or a loved one that has suffered from this disease. It's rampant. You is a family here, too. I know, thank you so much. When we come back here tonight -- ♪

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

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