Former ‘GMA’ Anchor Elizabeth Vargas Shares Her Experience with Anxiety and Alcoholism

Emmy-award winning journalist Elizabeth Vargas served at ABC News from 1996 to 2017. Co-anchoring Good Morning America, 20/20, and World News Tonight, Vargas left the network after over 20 years to pursue other opportunities.

The news woman is also a best-selling author, penning her memoir in 2017 which explored her battle with addiction, revealing it started due to her experience with anxiety.

Elizabeth Vargas visits The Empire State Building
Elizabeth Vargas | Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Vargas’ anxiety started as a child

In her book Between Breaths, Vargas recounts her struggle with anxiety that began at an early age when her father went off to fight in the Vietnam War. Experiencing daily panic attacks as a child, Vargas was unfortunately told by an adult that anxiety was something to be ashamed of and hidden. In hindsight, the former ABC star sees how people can be hesitant to share their struggle with the issue.

“It’s embarrassing to be anxious in an elevator where the doors are taking too long to open and everyone else is fine,” Vargas said, according to NBC News. “Anxiety is something that people keep hidden and they don’t talk about it openly.”

The journalist is hopeful that there would be more acceptance of those suffering from anxiety to be vocal about the condition. “There’s such relief when you can say to somebody, ‘I’m just feeling a little anxious, give me a minute,’” she explained, “and then maybe that person can even help you in that moment, say the right things that need to be said.”

Covering anxiety with alcohol

As an adult, the journalist maintained the belief that she needed to hide her anxiety and began using alcohol to fight the feelings of panic. “It was like, ‘I finally feel relaxed,’” Vargas told ABC News. “All my insecurities would sort of fade back.”

Her drinking began affecting her marriage to singer Marc Cohn. “He thought I drank too much,” she said. “I remember he was angry when he said it, and grabbing my arm and saying, ‘You have a problem with alcohol,’ and that just made me really mad.”

Vargas’ need for alcohol reached a point where she began hiding bottles under her bathroom sink. “Looking at myself in the mirror thinking, ‘This is who I am, sneaking into my own bathroom to gulp down from my toothpaste cup a half cup of wine so I can get through another hour feeling good,’” she revealed.

The road to recovery

After several attempts at sobriety only to result in relapses, Vargas was finally able to stay on the road to recovery with the help of intense therapy. Her marriage ended in divorce, and Vargas greatly regrets whatever pain she caused her two sons.

“I don’t know if I will ever forgive myself for hurting them with my drinking, ever,” the former GMA anchor said. “Because I didn’t physically endanger my children doesn’t mean I didn’t devastate them or put them in danger emotionally or psychologically.”

In her book, Vargas hopes to shine a light on the connection between anxiety and alcoholism, and encourage those afflicted to reach out for help.

“These aren’t small problems, anxiety and addiction,” she said. “They are life threatening issues and we should be able to reach out and talk about it. People don’t want to be seen as weak or flawed or in some way not right. Every person going through that feels like they are all alone. You are not alone.”

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Though she was hesitant to put her full story on paper for the world to see, Vargas is grateful for the response. “I was terrified to actually put this book out there and in fact woke up every night and said ‘I’m going to call the publisher and say never mind, stop the presses,'” she admitted. “But I never anticipated the reaction I am getting. I hear from somebody every day. They stop me at the gym, or the airport. Or, I get an email or a message on Facebook or Twitter from someone who read my book and finally got help.”

Now, the former 20/20 co-host is thankful that sharing her journey has helped others. “I feel very gratified for that because I was able to take what was a dark, hard chapter in my life and make something good come out of it,” Vargas said.