A new day, a new prominent figure is openly discussing her battle with alcoholism. And according to ABC News and 20/20 anchor Elizabeth Vargas, honestly talking to her own doctor about her booze habits was harder than interviewing the most powerful people in the world. Vargas recently did an interview with Women’s Health to promote her new book Between Breaths: A Memoir of Panic and Addiction. Vargas now understands she was primarily driven to abuse alcohol to self-medicate crippling anxiety. After stints in rehab in both 2013 and 2014, she is now in recovery and sharing her story.
A Self-Medicating Slow Burn
After rarely partying in high school and college, Vargas says she started boozing heavily after a few decades of moderate adult drinking. As the pressure of work and providing for her family increased, so did her wine consumption. But as most substance abusers can eventually attest, the liquid she was using to curb her anxiety, ultimately made it worse. I really related when she told WH, “For all those years I thought I was tamping down the anxiety with my white wine, I was actually making it much bigger.” Sometimes the horrible come-down you feel after drinking is a consequence so much worse than the less-than-ideal behavior you might succumb to under the influence—and sometimes it’s all occurring in the confines of your own brain. Well, and perhaps your toilet bowl.
When writing the book, Vargas researched how daily alcohol consumption affects women especially. She said, “There are physiological changes that happen to a woman after she’s been drinking daily for a while. It does change the brain. It does change the body.” Besides increasing our risk for breast cancer, it can also alter female body chemistry to where we start needing that chardonnay to feel “normal.” Newsflash: that isn’t normal. Vargas says she realized what others might have been using to get that happy hour feeling, she was using to just be at base level. “I was no longer having a couple glasses to get than nice buzz that everyone wants. I needed it just to get to the baseline, to function and feel OK,” she recalls.
I was a binge drinker rather a daily drinker, so I don’t relate to that exact sentiment of needing it every day to feel okay. However, I have heard countless stories from others in recovery who were barking up the same tree as Vargas in that regard. Toward the end, when I started to drink, it felt like I either skipped the buzz and felt nothing until black out, or just felt sick the minute I started. Either way—totally not normal. I also constantly wanted it for squashing any and all uncomfortable feelings (including anxiety) which—surprise, surprise—can come up quite a bit when you’re alive. I think women feel stuff pretty intensely and put a lot of perfection-level expectations on ourselves in all areas of our life. We’re bound to eventually either learn to scale back, or start trying to numb.
But Women Can Definitely Survive Without Wine
I’m with Vargas on this though: the blatant marketing of alcohol toward women in particular and the glorification of women and drinking is getting nauseating. And guess what? It’s working. Gals are drinking more. They’re openly bragging about it more too. We get it: Moms love their vino! Ladies night in Miami! Book club?! More like wine club! And PS, that “Mommy drinks because you cry meme” is so 2010. Don’t get me started on Instagram photos of ultra thin women living it up while they knock back sugary, calorie-laden drinks. How are those bitches not fat from that? (Okay, underlying personal resentment alert.)
Meanwhile the rest of us feel inadequate for not being able to party hard, kill it at work and/or motherhood and still look amazing and fuckable in a skin tight dress. I guess it all just hits close to home because I was one of those women who tried to glorify her drinking for so long. When I finally realized I wanted to throw in the towel, it felt that much harder because it’s so pervasive in our culture. It makes those who might be questioning their own habits feel like they have to keep up or they’ll be left out or the weird one who doesn’t drink. Ultimately, I had to weigh the pros and cons and the girl drinking club soda at book club was a way easier con than the girl falling on the cheese table at book club.
Stars: They’re [Paralyzed with Anxiety] Just Like Us!
Vargas diagnoses her anxiety as a co-occurring disorder, along with her alcoholism. More press for the existence of mental health issues coinciding with substance abuse problems is important right now so kudos to her on that, too. Almost every woman I know suffers from some degree of anxiety. Either I happen to have a really uptight group of friends or women having chronic anxiety is pretty damn common. Successful, high-profile women like Elizabeth Vargas owning up to their issues make all of us feel a little bit braver about admitting we need help, regardless of the problem. She isn’t afraid to show us her imperfect side and I find her willingness to be real about her flaws (as Beyonce would say) flawless.
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