Hayden Panettiere is opening up for the first time about how her secret addiction to opioids and alcohol nearly meant the end of her career and her life. The former Nashville star, 32, opened up about her addiction journey in a new interview with PEOPLE, revealing how she's recently found peace undergoing trauma therapy and inpatient treatment over the last year ahead of her return to the Scream franchise.
"I was on top of the world and I ruined it," Panettiere said about her addiction to drugs and alcohol, which intensified amid an intense bout of postpartum depression following the birth of 7-year-old daughter Kaya. "I'd think I hit rock bottom, but then there's that trap door that opens." The former child star, who became a star by age 11 through her roles on soap operas and Remember the Titans, said she was 15 years old when someone on her team began to offer her "happy pills."
"They were to make me peppy during interviews," the actress recalled. "I had no idea that this was not an appropriate thing, or what door that would open for me when it came to my addiction." During the height of her career starring in Heroes at age 16, Panettiere said she was drinking alcohol and occasionally taking opioids, with working being her "saving grace" and keeping her in line.
"But things kept getting out of control [off set]," Panettiere continued. "And as I got older, the drugs and alcohol became something I almost couldn't live without." As the star moved on to Nashville and welcomed daughter Kaya in 2014 with her ex Wladimir Klitschko, things got even more difficult with the addition of postpartum depression, and Panettiere found herself increasingly dependent on alcohol.
"I never had the feeling that I wanted to harm my child, but I didn't want to spend any time with her," said Panettiere. "There was just this gray color in my life." Her drinking was the beginning of the end of her relationship with Klitschko as well, as she would sneak away to drink, and he "didn't want to be around" her. In 2018, the actress made the decision to send Kaya to live with her dad in Ukraine after their split, calling it "the hardest thing [she] ever had to do," but the best thing for her little girl.
At her lowest point, "I would have the shakes when I woke up and could only function with sipping alcohol," revealed Panettiere, who was eventually hospitalized with jaundice. "Doctors told me my liver was going to give out," she recalled. "I was no longer a 20-year-old who could just bounce right back." Eventually, Panettiere went to rehab for eight months, which she said helped her "get over the hump" of her addiction. "It's an everyday choice, and I'm checking in with myself all the time," said Panettiere. "But I'm just so grateful to be part of this world again, and I will never take it for granted again."
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call the National Drug Helpline at (844) 289-0879.