Perry Hagopian
Credit: Perry Hagopian

When Elizabeth Vargas wrote her searingly candid memoir about her battle with alcoholism, the veteran journalist had no idea it would make such an impact.

“That was one of the hardest and most rewarding things I’ve done,” she says of her 2016 book, which detailed her multiple relapses and what it meant to finally hit rock bottom.

“I was painfully honest about my struggles with anxiety and how I self-medicated with alcohol,” Vargas, 55, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, on stands Friday. “I felt very alone when I was in the grip of the disease.”

Perry Hagopian
Credit: Perry Hagopian

But as difficult as all of it was, Vargas says, “I feel grateful that I could take what was a painful part of my life and make something good out of it.”

Currently the host of A&E Investigates, where she’ll be working on the network’s new documentary programs, Vargas also travels the country making public appearances and speeches with the hope of reducing the stigma surrounding addiction and anxiety.

“If I’ve helped one person, I feel really great, but I hear from people daily,” she says. “That makes me feel like it was worth it to to be as brutally honest as I was.”

  • For more on Elizabeth Vargas, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

While she’s passionate about helping others, Vargas never loses sight of her own sobriety.

“It’s been a great several years,” she says, “and I do not take it for granted. I have my own program that I stick to and I’m grateful for every day that I have.”

Vargas’ new series Cults and Extreme Belief airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on A&E.