For the first time, Hayden Panettiere is speaking candidly about her years-long struggle with an addiction to opioids and alcohol that she says cost her her career and almost her life.
In addition to her addiction, the actor also experienced a devastating bout with postpartum depression following the birth of her now 7-year-old daughter Kayawhom she shares with her ex, Wladimir Klitschko. “I was on top of the world and I ruined it,” she told People. “I’d think I hit rock bottom, but then there’s that trap door that opens.” But over the last year, Panettiere says she’s been determined to get out from under her addiction undergoing both trauma therapy and inpatient treatment. “I put a lot of work into myself and I had to be willing to be incredibly honest,” she said. “This hasn’t been easy and there were a lot of ups and downs. But I don’t regret even the ugliest things that have happened to me. I feel incredibly accomplished. And I feel like I have a second chance.”
The Nashville star explained that her relationship with drugs and alcohol first began when she was just 15 years old and someone on her team started offering her “happy pills” before she’d walk the red carpet. She explained, “They were to make me peppy during interviews. 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.” Soon, she was drinking and taking opioids as her career continued to skyrocket. “My saving grace is that I couldn’t be messy while on set and working,” Panettiere said. “But things kept getting out of control [off set]. And as I got older, the drugs and alcohol became something I almost couldn’t live without.”
Around 2014, following the birth of her daughter, the actor confessed, “Those were really tough years,” adding that a lot of her character’s storylines on Nashville about alcoholism and postpartum depression “hit close to home.” She sought treatment for her depression at the time, but continued to struggle with addiction and became increasingly reliant on alcohol just to get through the day.
While Panettiere didn’t drink during her pregnancy, she says that after Kaya was born she quickly started again. She explained, “I never had the feeling that I wanted to harm my child, but I didn’t want to spend any time with her. There was just this gray color in my life.” She started sneaking away to drink in private and her relationship with Klitschko also took a serious hit. “He didn’t want to be around me,” she recollected. “I didn’t want to be around me. But with the opiates and alcohol I was doing anything to make me feel happy for a moment. Then I’d feel worse than I did before. I was in a cycle of self-destruction.”
When her alcoholism reached its worst point, Panettiere revealed, “I would have the shakes when I woke up and could only function with sipping alcohol.” Ultimately, she had to make the difficult decision in 2018 to send her daughter to live with Klitschko in Ukraine while she tried to get her addiction under control. She said, “It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. But I wanted to be a good mom to her—and sometimes that means letting them go.”
Eventually, Panettiere, who was suffering from jaundice, had to be hospitalized. “Doctors told me my liver was going to give out. I was no longer a 20-year-old who could just bounce right back,” the actor said. Following that hospital stay, she entered rehab for eight months which she says provided her with the tools to “get over the hump” of addiction. Panettiere concluded, “It’s an everyday choice, and I’m checking in with myself all the time. But I’m just so grateful to be part of this world again, and I will never take it for granted again.”