Speaking to former ABC News anchor Elizabeth Vargas on the latest episode of the Heart of the Matter podcast, Heaton discussed some of the defining factors around her drinking and once only drug use.
Heaton said that “after a take night on Thursday nights” the Everybody Loves Raymond cast would go out for drinks at a bar in the studio. She noticed that although Peter Boyle, who played Frank Barone, her character Debra’s father-in-law, would regularly attend the sessions he never drank alcohol. That observation intrigued her, so she asked him how he did it.
She says he told her, “‘You’re pumped up from the show. You just want to have a drink with everybody. You want to celebrate. You want to kind of have your adrenaline come down. How do you not — how do you keep yourself from drinking?’” she recalled asking the veteran actor. “He said, ‘You know, I just think about the first drink. And I think about it leading to the second one, and then to the third one, and I just walk through it in my brain. And by the time I think about that, I know I don’t want to be in that position.’”
He went on to explain that by the time he had thought it through, the moment of wanting the drink “has passed.” Heaton told Vargas that he shared that advice around 20 years ago, and it’s something she’s never forgotten.
“There’s a Pavlovian response you have to going out with your friends where the waiter comes up and says, ‘Can I get you all something to drink?’ and you just want to order something to drink,” she said. “I just remember Peter talking about that, and so I would just think about it, and just think how I would feel at the end of the meal where I would have eaten too much, and then I wouldn’t sleep well that night because of the alcohol.”
“If I gave myself that 30 seconds or 60 seconds to think about it, the urge would subside. And then I could get through the meal,” she added.
During the podcast conversation, Heaton also shared the “humiliating” moment she decided to get sober and how her mental health and the death of her mother played into the one and only time she tried drugs.
Speaking of her decision to stop drinking, Heaton recalled that it happened over dinner at the house of one of her four sons. After bringing over a couple bottles of wine, Heaton said the group of about 10, including three of her sons and their friends, drank while making dinner, through dinner, during clean-up and while playing a board game after. She said she drank for five or six hours. “I don’t know how many glasses it was, and I felt completely sober and fine,” she recounted.
But when she tried to make a joke to the table about a family tradition, she couldn’t properly say “tradition” after multiple attempts. “I can’t even mispronounce it for you the way I was mispronouncing it. I can’t remember,” she said before revealing that one of her sons then spoke up, telling her, “Oh, great, Mom. You can’t even talk.”
“I was so humiliated in front of my sons and their friends,” she admitted. “And God knows that that’s all it takes for me to have that kind of sense of their mom’s looking drunk in front of them. But, also, I thought, ‘I feel fine. What is happening in my brain? What is the alcohol doing to my brain where the synapses are misfiring to the point where I can’t say this word?’”
Heaton said it shook her up. “I thought, ‘That’s it. That’s it.’ This was literally within like 24 hours of me saying, God, you need to take this away from me.” She has now been sober for over three years.
The first and only time she used cocaine, took place in the ’80s while at a studio musician bar in New York. The actress recalled how the damaging effects of what was then considered a “party drug” weren’t fully known or talked about, but that after taking it, it triggered a major depressive episode two days later.
Heaton already struggling with depression, due to circumstances around her mother’s death from an aneurysm when the actress was 12, took the cocaine at a party.
“Cocaine was flowing like crazy, and I remember being there and drinking and doing cocaine till six in the morning. That next day I was fine, but the day after the depression I felt was so intense, I thought, ‘I am never going to do this again because I feel like I’m going to kill myself,’” she said.