Sabathia, who completed a rehab stint at a Connecticut clinic last week, in the ABC interview speaks publicly for the first time since his unexpected departure from the Yankees two days before they hosted Houston in the American League Wild Card Game.
"I understand where fans would be upset and people don't understand, but it's a disease," Sabathia said in an interview that aired on Friday. "And if it was my knee or it was anything else, then people wouldn't have a problem with it. But, you know, it being alcoholism, it's tough for people to swallow. But it's the same thing."
Sabathia was not on the roster for the Yankees' AL Wild Card Game against the Astros, which was started by Masahiro Tanaka. Sabathia checked out of the rehab facility last week, and he told ABC that he has been receiving support from many of his teammates and friends around the league.
"In 2012, I kind of came to the realization that I was an alcoholic," Sabathia said. "I was kind of battling it without any help, and I would relapse. I would go two, three months at a time sober, and then I would just relapse and go on these weekends where I didn't think anybody was paying attention. I would get in the hotel room and drink out of the minibar, pretty much everything."
Sabathia said that he never drank before games that he pitched, and that his breaking point came on Oct. 4, when the Yankees played their final game of the season against the Orioles in Baltimore.
"That weekend, I had started drinking and thought nobody was paying attention," Sabathia said. "I was isolated by myself, stayed in the room the whole weekend. I just woke up and felt like I needed help. It was a tough decision to make, because I felt like I was leaving my teammates. But I definitely needed the help to be a better husband, father, teammate, player."
Sabathia's wife, Amber, told ABC that she already senses a difference in the veteran hurler, who will return in 2016 for his 16th big league season. The 35-year-old left-hander was 6-10 with a 4.73 ERA this year.
"I've been able to visit him through the whole process, so I've definitely seen a difference," Amber Sabathia said. "I know it's one day at a time, and it's going to be better. The old CC will be back, but I don't know if I want the old CC back. I like the new CC; I like this CC."
Sabathia said that he wanted to go through the rehab process publicly, and he recognizes that it is a battle he will continue to fight for the rest of his life.
"I look to be a role model in staying sober and just kind of leading by example," Sabathia said. "I'm just here to say that this disease has no color, no age and it's very serious. I advise anybody if they're out there feeling like they need help, to get it."