As the first Latina news anchor anchoring an evening news program, Elizabeth Vargas is the last person you would think of struggling with both anxiety and alcoholism. A successful career, a loving family, some might say she had it all. But having it all is what eventually destroyed everything she built. The 20/20 news anchor opened up about her recovery journey with Diane Sawyer.
When you watch her on TV, she is the epitome of calm and confident but she has suffered from severe anxiety since she was a child. Her mother believes it started when her father went to Vietnam.
“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,” Vargas’ mother shared with ABC 20/20. “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.”
Her anxiety followed her through her adult life and she began drinking to ease the stress of balancing her demanding job, her marriage, and her family. What started as an innocent glass of wine or two to take the edge off after work quickly became a problem for Vargas. Sadly, this is the same way it starts out for many American women. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), women are the fastest growing segment of alcohol users in the country and 60% of women who struggle with alcohol addiction also live with anxiety.
Anxiety is actually one of the most common mental disorders, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA).
“Mental health disorders and substance abuse commonly go hand in hand,” explains David Dequa, Program Director at The Discovery House, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Los Angeles. “Either disorder can occur first, but often the result of one condition is the development of the other. Someone who suffers from mental illness like depression or an anxiety disorder may over time begin to self-medicate in order to ease their mind. Before long, these individuals begin to depend on the substance in order to manage their mental health disease, and they quickly find themselves addicted.”
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Vargas told ABC News that she never planned for her struggle to become so public.
“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.”
Though she didn’t want to be the face of alcoholism, Vargas is “really proud” of what she has accomplished by embracing her story and sharing it with the world.
“It’s very scary to put it out there, but if I can help one person feel less alone, then I’m really happy about that.”
You can read more about Elizabeth Vargas’s story in her new memoir, Between Breaths, and her interview with Diane Sawyer airs this Friday, September 9, at 10 p.m. ET. on ABC.