(Photo: Charles Sykes /Invision/AP)
(USA TODAY) - Elizabeth Vargas has been in "denial" about her battle with alcoholism for long time, she told Good Morning America co-anchor George Stephanopoulos in an interview that was taped Thursday and aired on GMA Friday morning.
"I am. I am an alcoholic," Vargas said. "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. The amount of energy I expended keeping that secret and keeping this problem hidden from view was exhausting."
Vargas explained that wine - or as her son called it "Mommy's juice" was her "go-to" drink. "I started thinking 'Well, you know, I'll only drink, you know, on weekends," she said, laughing. "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."
Vargas, 51, sought treatment in rehab in the fall, and said she's ready to return to the air tonight on 20/20.
She also explained that she has suffered panic attacks since she was a child. Her father had left to serve in the Vietnam War, and when her mother would leave home to go to work, Vargas said she suffered daily attacks that continued into adulthood.
"I dealt with that anxiety, and with the stress that the anxiety brought by starting to drink. And it slowly escalated and got worse and worse," she said.
The one person knew what was happening? Her husband, musician Marc Cohn.
"'You have a problem. You're an alcoholic,'" she recalled that he said, adding that "it made me really angry, really angry. But he was right."
Nevertheless, she ignored him. "I mean, denial is huge for any alcoholic, especially for a functioning alcoholic, because I, you know, I'm not living under a bridge. I haven't been arrested."
What finally sent her to rehab, she says, was when she showed up for a 20/20 shoot one day and realized she was "in no shape to do that interview."
She says explained her more-than-28-day rehab stint to her boys, ages 7 and 10, that she had an allergy to alcohol.
And now, she says, "I'm part of AA," she said, referring to Alcoholics Anonymous. "I have a sponsor. I have great, great friends who I love and who love me."