Chris Bath on Talitha Cummins: "She hid her drinking very well."

By Rebecca Latham

After years of binge drinking and hiding her addiction at work, Weekend Sunrise newsreader Talitha Cummins is challenging the stereotype of an alcoholic.

When the now 36-year-old journalist phoned her mother to confess she had a problem with alcohol, the reaction took her by surprise.

“I thought alcoholics were like the old bag men in the parks. That’s how naive I was,” Kaye Wiig said.

But Cummins said her mother was not the only one in denial.

“There is a huge stigma attached to this label in our society. It’s one of the biggest problems we are facing but we are still afraid to talk about it,” she said.

Now four years sober and the mother of a baby boy, the Channel Seven newsreader describes herself as the “modern face” of alcoholism.

“I’m professional, educated, high functioning,” Cummins said.

“I hit rock bottom but it could easily have been much worse.”

Cummins — an ambassador for the online alcohol support group Hello Sunday Morning — has shared her struggle with Australian Story, with input from her friends and family, as a cautionary tale to other young people.

“I think going public has actually helped me in a way,” she said.

“I still have days where I think, ‘have I done the right thing’? But from the responses I’ve had, I think it is helping people, perhaps planting a seed in the minds of others who may have a problem, but may not be ready to deal with it just yet.”

Professional by day, binge drinker by night

By her early 30s, Cummins was juggling dual identities — working as a successful television reporter by day and transforming into a binge drinker by night.

At her worst she could down more than four bottles of wine in one sitting.

“I used it as a stress release,” Cummins said.

“I’d go for a drink with friends and at 3:00am, I’m still there.

“And then I’m fighting a hangover the next morning, pretending that everything is fine and fronting up to work with that other alter ego.”

In an attempt to maintain control, Cummins resorted to exercise to snap her body back into sobriety.

“I remember getting up at 5:00am to go for a 10-kilometre run after a big night and having a black coffee. Sometimes I was still drunk. But to keep it all together, to keep that lie together, that’s what I had to do,” she said.

“Work seemed to be a leveller for me. I just had this mental thing in my head that I had to be in character and that I could do it.

“Some of my best workdays were those days, strangely.”

‘With alcohol, I wasn’t the shy girl anymore’

As a child Cummins struggled with shyness and said her introversion became more pronounced after her parents divorced.

Her first drink was as a 14-year-old in a Gold Coast park before a school social.

“Alcohol made me feel like I wasn’t that shy girl anymore, that I had confidence, that I didn’t have to be reserved. From that point I realised I could be this person if I had alcohol,” Cummins said.


Best friend Sami Glastonbury said when Cummins drank as a teenager, she became more of an extrovert.

“People were drawn to her because she was, you know, beautiful. As soon as the spotlight came upon her she would start to slowly retract.

“The more attention she got, the more uncomfortable she became. When she drank she was a bit more outgoing and brazen.”

‘She hid her drinking very well’: Chris Bath

Cummins’ drinking soon escalated from social outings to all-night drinking sessions at home alone.

Despite growing concern from her friends, she was immune to interventions.

Friend and fellow journalist Chris Bath said Cummins hid her drinking well and was always professional on air.

“I just thought that she was partying like any young woman her age would do, until I walked into make-up one day and the make-up artist was in tears because Talitha was in hospital getting her stomach pumped,” she said.

It wasn’t until Channel Seven’s news chief-of-staff intervened to say Cummins’ job was at risk that she finally sought help.

“I thought I portrayed this squeaky clean image at work,” Cummins said.

“To find out that wasn’t the case really rocked my world and gave me the impetus to address my drinking problem.”

Diagnosed with severe depression, she joined Alcoholics Anonymous and signed up with online group Hello Sunday Morning to begin the long, slow road to recovery.

‘Recovery will be always and forever’

Three months into her sobriety, a friend introduced Cummins to Ben Lucas. The couple are now married and she recently gave birth to a son.

Shortly after their first date Mr Lucas decided to give up alcohol to support her.

“Any stress I can shoulder the load for, I want to do so,” he said.

“It’s an irrational fear of mine that it may drive her to drink and I don’t ever want to do that.”

Mr Lucas said there were times when Cummins was still tempted by alcohol.

He said while on a holiday she contemplated how fun it would be to throw a party and go on a final bender before putting down the bottle once and for all.

“We got into a bit of an argument and it was like a different person in the car. And then she said

Cummins admits there is no such thing as a finishing line when it came to alcoholism.

“It’s ongoing, recovery will be always and forever,” she said.

“I go through stages where I think, ‘yes, I’m through this, it’s fine’.

“But temptation will come back to you.”

Watch The Big Dry on Australian Story at 8pm on ABC TV.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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