20/20's Elizabeth Vargas is bravely opening up about her battle with alcoholism and her time in rehab.
"On a Saturday afternoon I showed up for a 20/20 shoot and I was in no shape to do that interview," Vargas, 51, told Good Morning America's George Stephanopoulos in an interview that aired Friday, Jan. 24. "I got out of the car I realized what am I doing? And that's when I knew I needed to get help."
So, in November 2013, with support from her ABC family as well as hubby Mark Cohn, Vargas headed to a treatment facility. "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,'" she recalled. "And I came home for five days and realized they were right, and I went back and finished."
"I am an alcoholic. It took me a long time to admit it to myself," she said. "It took me a long time to admit it to my family. But here I am."
Vargas said she'd suffered from anxiety attacks as a child and even experienced them on air. "I had a panic attack on live television when I was anchoring in Chicago," she said, referencing the start of her career in journalism. And when she was named the anchor of ABC's World News Tonight in 2006, she "had to take beta blockers" because she "was so nervous and anxious."
"The amount of energy I expended to keep this secret from you, from my colleagues, was exhausting," she said, "and it becomes very easy to think, 'I deserve this glass of wine. I'm so stressed out and I'm keeping it hidden."
"Wine was my go-to drink," she explained. "A lot of wine...At night, it was a ritual."
Vargas' sons Wyatt, 7, and Zachary, 10, were once told wine was "Mommy's juice," but now she explains to her boys that mom has "an allergy to alcohol."
"I didn't want to use the word 'disease' with them, even though that's how it's classified by the medical profession," she said. "It's too scary, you know, the connotation for them is disease is something deadly...and we explained that I was going away to get better. And they came and visited me."
"But I think they're OK," she said. "They're going to be OK."
The 20/20 cohost is now grateful for the support of her family and colleagues as she continues to battle her addiction. She's also attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and has a sponsor.
"This isn't what I want to be known for," Vargas said, "but I'm really proud of what I did."