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A Look at Alcoholism – Diane Sawyer’s Interview with Elizabeth Vargas for 20/20

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A Look at Alcoholism – Diane Sawyer’s Interview with Elizabeth Vargas for 20/20, including some discussion of Elizabeth Vargas’ book Between Breaths


Alcoholism can be so devastating for individuals and/or families...

A Look at Alcoholism – Diane Sawyer’s Interview with Elizabeth Vargas for 20/20, including some discussion of Elizabeth Vargas’ book Between Breaths about Vargas' struggle with alcoholism.

  • Elizabeth Vargas is an internationally recognized name as she is a world renowned journalist from the United States.
  • Elizabeth Vargas is also an alcoholic in recovery.
  • In an interview with Diane Sawyer for the television broadcast 20/20, Elizabeth Vargas discusses her drinking problem as well as the anxiety and panic attacks that she sometimes experienced when she was scheduled to appear on live television.

While Elizabeth Vargas loved her job and telling people’s stories, she was a perfectionist at heart and often suffered from anxiety. She also began to overuse alcohol.

  • Elizabeth Vargas’ discussion about alcoholism, with Diane Sawyer is a friendly and open one.
  • Elizabeth Vargas appears very comfortable discussing alcoholism with Diane Sawyer, her colleague.
  • Elizabeth Vargas hosts Diane Sawyer, the camera crew, hair and makeup people in her very own home where the interview regarding her alcoholism is taking place.

There is very ample seating in Elizabeth Vargas' living room, with three sofas and her home is adorned with photos of her sons on the walls. I do the same thing. I cannot get enough of photography and putting the framed memories on the walls.

  • At the time of the interview about her alcoholism, Elizabeth Vargas' two sons were 10 years old and 13 years old.
  • In the interview with Diane Sawyer, Elizabeth Vargas is very forthcoming about being an alcoholic and she discusses her struggle with alcoholism dating as far back as the year 2012 and even prior to that.

Elizabeth Vargas spoke about both her anxiety and her alcoholism

Elizabeth Vargas admits to journalist Diane Sawyer that she misses the romantic aspects of drinking alcohol, when it seemed very innocent to pour two glasses of white wine at a romantic dinner.

Nevertheless, the use of alcohol took a very dark turn for Elizabeth Vargas as she was unable to control the amount of alcohol that she was drinking.

To ease her anxiety, early on in her television journalism career, Elizabeth Vargas began going out to drink alcohol at bars and restaurants serving alcohol, after work, during “happy hour” with colleagues.

  1. Unfortunately, it was not long before she started frequenting these places all by herself to drink alcohol.
  2. Elizabeth Vargas knew in her heart that going out drinking alcohol alone was not a particularly positive or healthy thing to do but she did it anyway.
  3. In one poignant moment during the interview with Diane Sawyer, Elizabeth Vargas admitted that she would sometimes pretend to be on her cell phone while sitting alone in these bars to drink alcohol.
  4. Elizabeth Vargas would pretend that she was speaking to someone on the phone and waiting for them to arrive and join her. Now, anyone in the television audience watching this interview would agree that is an odd thing if ever we heard of one!

Elizabeth Vargas had what seemed to be a kind husband as she described how he was a singer and her favorite song, The Medicine Man is among his songs. He also sings the famous song, Walking in Memphis. She describes how he used to sing her to sleep at times and I thought that her description of that sounded beautifully romantic.

  • However, her husband did not have much patience for her alcoholism and he confronted her about his thoughts that she drank too much.
  • Elizabeth Vargas says that this this confrontation regarding her alcoholism made her upset, “mad”.
  • Elizabeth Vargas knew that she was still working hard at her job and taking care of her sons. She did not want to be criticized about drinking too much alcohol.
  • How could her husband not notice though and not tell her something?
  • Elizabeth Vargas was hiding alcohol in the bathroom and she was drinking two bottles of chardonnay per night at one point in time!
A dark and cloudy day

A dark and cloudy day

Drinking and sleeping - as Elizabeth Vargas struggled with alcoholism

Elizabeth Vargas also discusses several incidents involving her alcoholism between the years 2012 and 2014.

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Elizabeth Vargas and her family had taken a beach vacation and all Elizabeth wanted to do was drink alcohol and sleep.

Elizabeth's husband took the kids down to the beach and she can remember when her younger son, little at the time, came back with the scent of sunscreen and heat radiating from his body, asking her when she was going to wake up.

  • There was another occasion where Elizabeth Vargas vacationed with her children, her sister and her sister’s children.
  • One day during the vacation, Elizabeth Vargas was drunk by 11am!
  • Her sister confronted her about this and Elizabeth said that she drinks alcohol because she is unhappy.

Living and working in the New York City/ New Jersey area, Elizabeth Vargas chose to not be a driver, so she was never behind the wheel while inebriated.

Elizabeth Vargas has done a short stint in rehab for alcoholism where she specially requested to stay in a 30 day program for just two weeks because she had to get back to work.

By the spring of 2014, Elizabeth Vargas had to admit to her supervisors at ABC network news that she had a problem with alcoholism.

  • There was a major incident where Elizabeth Vargas had taken a ride with a hired driver from her job and took a detour to a liquor store.
  • Back in the backseat of the car, Elizabeth was in a alcoholic blackout where she could not remember what happened next, where she went or what she did and does not remember to this day!
  • A “Good Samaritan” found Elizabeth Vargas wandering Riverside park. It was a woman that told her that she did not like the look of a group of men nearby. They seemed to be identifying Elizabeth as a vulnerable person.
  1. This Good Samaritan saw to it that Elizabeth Vargas got home.
  2. Elizabeth was lucid enough to tell her the address and Elizabeth was left in the lobby of her apartment building.
  3. Elizabeth Vargas' husband was notified and she was taken to the hospital where her blood alcohol level was found to be a lethal level, .4, the same blood alcohol level that was said to have contributed to the death of singer, Amy Winehouse.

Elizabeth Vargas' family urged her to stop drinking alcohol

As Elizabeth Vargas’ children grew older, they noticed problems that scared them and they urged their mother to stop drinking alcohol. They were scared for her life!

Elizabeth thought that her problem with alcoholism and admitting to being a “drunk” was very “unfeminine” so she decided to tell her supervisors that she needed to go to rehab for alcohol and Ambien dependency!

Later on, in 2014, (after the park incident) Elizabeth Vargas’ husband and the father of her two sons eventually requested a divorce due to her alcoholism and that divorce was finalized in 2016. Elizabeth Vargas discusses what a humiliation this was for her and how she came very close to losing her job because of her alcoholism numerous times as well but she is so glad and thankful that she was given another chance.

  • Elizabeth Vargas has looked back in time and watched some video tape and listened to some audio clips for her job, during which she was hungover, not looking her best or slurring speech.
  • Some video footage and audio material was unusable.
  • She apologized to many people (coworkers such as camera crew) who had to repeat their work due to her incidents of being intoxicated or hungover.


This broadcast for the show 20/20, where journalist Diane Sawyer interviewed journalist Elizabeth Vargas about her alcoholism ran for approximately 45 minutes and the footage can be viewed on YouTube. On television, the show would have lasted 1 hour including the television commercials.

The interview about Elizabeth Vargas' alcoholism is poignant, pertinent and insightful. Elizabeth Vargas is helping a lot of people by letting down her guard, showing her vulnerability and discussing many of her life challenges, including alcoholism.

Elizabeth Vargas has written a book, a memoir named Between Breaths that discusses the anxiety, panic attacks and alcoholism. I have not read the book yet but I think that I will in the future. (Update: I read the book!)

  1. Diane Sawyer mentions to Elizabeth Vargas that perhaps there will be people thinking that Elizabeth Vargas has not been sober long enough to write an inspirational book about overcoming alcoholism.
  2. Elizabeth Vargas seems a little taken aback by this suggestion during the interview but she recovers quickly to give an answer, saying that perhaps some people will think that but with recovering alcoholics, staying sober is always a one-day-at-a-time project. She does not know where she will be in her sobriety journey two years, five years or ten years from now.

Elizabeth Vargas has learned that if she goes somewhere (i.e.- a social function) where she is very tempted to drink, then she should just leave and she attends alcoholics support group meetings.

Diane Sawyer interviews Elizabeth Vargas regarding her alcoholism

Do you have a close personal relationship with anyone that has suffered from alcoholism?

Between Breaths book by Elizabeth Vargas

© 2018 Nyesha Pagnou MPH

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