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Jenna Bush Hager recalls talk with George W. Bush about alcohol

"He just knew that it was interrupting his dreams and interrupting his parenting. I always appreciated (the conversation), and I still do."
/ Source: TODAY

Jenna Bush Hager admits that the stress of parenting can make her want to reach for a glass of wine at the end of a long day, but a conversation she had with her father nearly 20 years ago has had a profound effect on how she views drinking.

Jenna recalled on TODAY with Hoda & Jenna Wednesday how former president George W. Bush pulled her aside after a family wedding years ago and shared his view on alcohol.

Jenna Bush Hager recalled a conversation about alcohol in her early 20s that she had with her father, former President George W. Bush, that has stayed with her now that she is a parent herself. Eric Draper / Getty Images

"I'll never forget I was in Maine for my cousin's wedding. ... We went for a walk, and he said, 'I just want to talk to you about drinking — and I found in my life it got in the way of the things that mattered most — and I want to make sure that you just know that it can and be aware of it,''' she said.

Bush wrote in his 2010 book "Decision Points" about how he gave up drinking after first lady Laura Bush pushed him to decide whether he wanted to choose alcohol or fatherhood. Jenna was in her early 20s when they had the talk after the wedding.

"I think at the time I probably was like, 'I'm not even that hungover,''' she said. "But I do think it was such a model to me about how I want to parent, which is to be transparent about either things that have happened in our family's past, or things that you know that can happen to your kids."

The elder Bush did not go to Alcoholics Anonymous but did decide to remove alcohol from his life for good.

"He said, 'I just want you to know that there was a point in my life where I thought like this is interrupting what's beautiful,''' Jenna said. "He just knew that it was interrupting his dreams and interrupting his parenting. I always appreciated it, and I still do."

Jenna was prompted to recall the conversation thanks to a candid interview by Ben Affleck in which he spoke with The New York Times about his struggles with alcohol abuse. Affleck plays a high school basketball coach who is an alcoholic and ends up in rehab in his new movie "The Way Back," and he opened up about his own compulsive behaviors.

“You’re trying to make yourself feel better with eating or drinking or sex or gambling or shopping or whatever,'' he said. "But that ends up making your life worse. Then you do more of it to make that discomfort go away. Then the real pain starts. It becomes a vicious cycle you can’t break. That’s at least what happened to me."

Jenna applauded Affleck for his raw honesty in the interview.

"He has little kids who can think like, 'Dad talked about with honesty and transparency how hard it is to be addicted to something, how hard it is to deal with pain by doing something that's not good for you,''' she said. "To have that conversation, he doesn't even know how many people he's probably helping."

She credits her father with helping her outlook all those years ago before she became a mother of three children herself.

"Parenting is tedious and can be difficult, and it can be easy to open that bottle of wine at 5 o'clock on a Monday,'' she said. "But I catch myself because I had those conversations (with my father), and I try not to — for my kids and for me."

Just being able to verbalize difficult situations like a struggle with alcohol can be half the battle, Hoda said.

"What usually happens after that conversation is you almost always feel better because it's easy to gloss it over. ... If you have the guts to have a conversation, it changes everything."