Elizabeth Vargas and Her Story of Anxiety, Alcoholism and Hope

ABC News' Elizabeth Vargas sat down with Diane Sawyer to discuss her struggle with alcoholism and her road to recovery.
8:21 | 09/10/16

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Transcript for Elizabeth Vargas and Her Story of Anxiety, Alcoholism and Hope
Tonight we're take a very personal and hopeful look at a disease that affects the lives of millions of Americans. Alcoholism. Our own Elizabeth vargas revealing for the first time to Diane sawyer the depths of her addiction and the toll it took on her marriage, her children, and her career. And the moment she knew she had to stop drinking. 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. That's when people die. How close did you come to dying? I on one occasion had what I know to be a lethal level of alcohol in my blood system. And even that didn't scare me into stopping. Reporter: For decades a network correspondent and anchor. Tonight we're taking you -- Reporter: "20/20's" Elizabeth vargas was known for her strong reporting from around the world. I'm Elizabeth vargas in Baghdad. Perugia, Italy. Jerusalem. Reporter: Tough interviews and seeking out people whose stories had been forgotten. Now she invited my colleague Diane sawyer into Herr home to share her own story of her battle with alcohol. One that she's written about in her new memoir, a battle that almost cost her everything, including her two sons. Are they the hardest of the hard part? Oh. Hands down. I don't know if I will ever forgive myself for hurting them with my drinking, ever. Reporter: That lifelong struggle with alcohalcohol, one of millions who suffer with the disease, yet on the surface Elizabeth seemed to be living a golden life. But, I mean, people can look at you and say you're so lucky. I am so lucky to have my two amazing children and to have this amazing job and to have -- Resources for people to help. You're right. I am lucky. All I can tell you is when you're in the cycle of this disease, though, I lost sight of everything. Everything. Reporter: Haunted by crushing insecurity and anxiety that began as a child, vargas says that as a local news anchor she discovered that a glass or two of wine helped soothe frayed nerves. It was like, ah, I finally feel relaxed. All my insecurities would sort of fade back. Reporter: A startling statistic. More than 60% of women who have a problem with alcohol also struggle with anxiety. In 2002 she married singer-songwriter Marc Cohn. You know his song "Walking in Memphis." ? When I was walking in Memphis ? she says she did control her drinking as she was taking care of their two sons, Zack and Sam. But her drinking was causing added tension in their marriage. He thought I drank too much. Reporter: And so she began a telltale pattern, keeping the amount a secret. And even hiding wine under her bathroom sink. Looking at myself in the mirror thinking this is who I am. Sneaking into my own bathroom to gulp down a half cup of wine so I can get through another hour feeling good. Reporter: And then came the uncontrolled binges that she couldn't hide from her family in 2012. A very low point. That was our big vacation. And my idea of a vacation was to empty the minibar by drinking everything in it. Reporter: Her younger son, Sam, finds her in the hotel room. I was drinking and sleeping. And I do vividly remember like one afternoon Sam standing by my head in the bed saying, "Mommy, when are you going to get up?" I would die for my children, Diane. But I couldn't stop drinking for my children. Reporter: After this vacation she did decide to try. Her first secret visit to rehab. But a few weeks after leaving she began again. While Elizabeth vargas says she was never drunk on live TV, the drinking had now started to kro creep into her job. And it's on video. I drank that day. Because I just -- I was shaky. It was horrible. Reporter: It was an interview with a famous singer. Your parents are very, very religious. Yes. And you are very -- Open. Open. Do you see how much I'm struggling to speak? Reporter: After this interview word started to spread around ABC that something was wrong. But days later she was back on the air in top form. But it was catching up with her. A month later after a day of secretly drinking she gets in a car to be driven home and, she says, that is the last thing she remembers. She was in a total blackout. What's the next thing? Waking up in the emergency room. I drank enough to be -- have a lethal blood alcohol level. What was it? .4. Reporter: At least 2,300 Americans die every year from exactly this kind of alcohol poisoning. Elizabeth vargas finally calls her boss at ABC to tell him she needs to seek treatment for addiction. I was too embarrassed to tell him that it was just alcohol because I thought it was so unfeminine. Reporter: She goes back to rehab more than once. Then in 2014 press leaks forced her to go public with her alcoholism. Her husband tells her the marriage is over. ? He can't save her from herself no more ? these lyrics written by her husband years before they met now have new meaning for her. I think that must have been how he felt. Because he couldn't save me. Reporter: Then finally, her turning point. When she went on one of her first vacations with her sons as a single mom. I don't think I gave anywhere near the thought I needed to give to how hard that would be for me, alone. I drank again. And I ruined it. Reporter: With a nanny helping out with her sons, she says she started with wine. Then the only thing left in the house, a bottle of tequila. Then she gets word that the office needs her to record her voice for a report that airs the next day. So early the next morning an ABC crew arrives at her rented vacation house to tape her. It's 8:00 A.M. I'm drunk. While Howard struggled with the -- while Howard struggled with the so- -- while Howard struggled with the S- -- I can't say it. I hear the struggle. I hear the alcohol. Reporter: She was drinking so much her children, her boys, were terrified with worry she might die and pleaded with her to stop. And even through the fog of alcohol Elizabeth says she finally grasped all the ways she had shattered her life. And you get help. Yeah. And you get help. Then you can fight. Reporter: ABC news agreed to give her one last chance. With the help of a sober coach she starts the path to recovery. One that now includes regular meetings, support groups, and meditation. And then there's the hard apologies to the husband who agreed to joint custody of the children and most importantly to her sons. You can't just say I'm sorry, I'm sorry I hurt you, and then you know, leave it at that. I'm sorry I drank. I'm sorry I scared you. I'm sorry that I wasn't there for you. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Reporter: Tonight her ex-husband has issued a statement, and we'll post it online. But he says as always he supports Elizabeth in her recovery and he applauds tonight's program, hoping it will help countless people and their families too. And he also writes that even in divorce he and Elizabeth will work together to be loving parents to their two incredible boys. What is it you most want your children to say? What's the thing you most love to hear from them? That my mom fought for us and fought for herself. That she stared into the abyss and pulled herself back out. That's what I would like them to

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

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