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Patricia Heaton recounts incident with her grown-up sons that led to her sobriety

The "Everybody Loves Raymond" star shared the embarrassing scene with her sons that made her want to stop drinking for good.
Actor Patricia Heaton decided to become sober three years ago. Here, she is pictured at an event at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in 2019.
Actor Patricia Heaton decided to become sober three years ago. Here, she is pictured at an event at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in 2019. Amy Sussman / Getty Images

Patricia Heaton can pinpoint the moment she decided to stop drinking alcohol for good three years ago.

The "Everybody Loves Raymond" star spoke with Elizabeth Vargas on the "Heart of the Matter" podcast about why she chose sobriety after her drinking had been gradually increasing, and the embarrassing scene with her family that cemented her decision.

Heaton, 63, was in Nashville visiting with three of her four sons, who are all in their 20s, when she said she bought a couple bottles of wine for the gathering.

"We drank while we were making dinner. We drank while we were eating dinner. We drank while we cleaned up. And then we were drinking while we were all playing this board game," she said. "There were like 10 of us there: three of my sons, and then their friends. And I was just filling my glass with red wine throughout the five or six hours that we were together. I don’t know how many glasses it was, and I felt completely sober and fine.

"I was making a joke to the table, and I started saying, 'You know, in our family it’s a tradition…' And I could not pronounce the word 'tradition.' And I tried three times, and I couldn’t say the word. And I can’t even mispronounce it for you the way that I was mispronouncing it. I can’t remember."

The verbal flub caused her to rethink her relationship with alcohol.

"And my son at the end of the table says, 'Oh great, mom. You can’t even talk.' And I was so humiliated in front of my sons, and their friends," she continued. "And God knows that that’s all it takes for me — for that kind of sense of their mom 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? And I’m trying to say it and I can’t say it.' It’s almost like having a stroke or something. And it shook me up. And I thought, 'That’s it. That’s it.'"

Actor Patricia Heaton says a moment three years ago with her now adult sons, shown here as children in 2001, made her decide to stop drinking alcohol. Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Before that moment, Heaton had already seen herself potentially becoming an alcoholic "down the road." A day earlier, she already had been seriously thinking about quitting.

"And there were a couple factors. Like my boys are in their 20s, it’s going to be at least probably 10 years before there’s a possibility of grandchildren, God willing," she said.

"That would make me around 73. So, I just thought, I need to have my brain ... It’s going anyway, I don’t want to add to it with the alcohol. So, I need to have my brain clean so I can be present if, God willing, I should get grandchildren in my 70s. And I also just felt like I am just drinking too much."

She described how working on various shows kept her honest in her alcohol intake because she had long days on the set that began early in the morning.

However, once her deal with CBS ended when a show with her was not picked up, plus her children were grown and out of the house, she found herself drinking more.

"I just noticed that if it was 5:00 and I don’t have anything to do the next day, I would start drinking automatically," she recalled.

"Then I would be waiting for it to be 5:00. And then I would go to lunch with friends, and then I would have a drink at lunch, which I never, ever did before," she said. "And it kind of ruins your day, because you get sleepy, and … But it was this thing.

"And so, I really started looking forward to drinking, and thinking about it in a way that I hadn’t before, when everything else was taken away. If we went out to dinner, I would have two cocktails before the meal, and then at least two glasses of wine, and then maybe an aperitif. And if I was with really good friends that I knew well, I would have three cocktails before dinner."

The morning after the incident with her sons, she vowed to quit drinking.

"And I happened to be having breakfast the next day with one of these sober friends. And I said, 'Well, you’re the first person I’m telling this to, but I’m … this is my first day of never drinking again,'" she said. "And she was so shocked. She said, 'What happened? I was just at lunch with you when you were downing prosecco.' I told her the incident, and we both kind of laughed, and she told me all these of her own stories. And that’s three years ago July."

Heaton marked three years of sobriety in July with a video message on Instagram saying she was "celebrating three years of freedom from alcohol."

She added on the podcast that advice she received years ago from her former "Everybody Loves Raymond" co-star, Peter Boyle, also was a big help. Boyle, who died at 71 in 2006, also embraced sobriety.

"And he said, 'You know, I just think about the first drink, and then 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, and then the moment has passed. I’ve spent a few minutes thinking about it, so then the moment has passed," she said. "I’ve never forgotten that."