Former Nashville star Hayden Panettiere is opening up in public for the first time about an addiction to opioids that, along with her longtime struggles with alcohol and postpartum depression, nearly ruined her career and her life.

The 32-year-old actor was already a successful performer by the time she was 11, with a resume that included soap operas and the Denzel Washington film Remember the Titans. She tells People that someone on her team began to give her what she termed "happy pills" by the time she was 15, a move designed to make her perform better in 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," Panettiere admits.

She says she was drinking and occasionally using opioids by the time she landed the role of deeply troubled country singer Juliette Barnes on Nashville in 2012, and some of the character's most difficult story arcs — including postpartum depression and alcoholism — allowed her to draw on her real-life struggles to portray them.

Panettiere says her "saving grace" was that she had to be straight and sober to complete her work on-set. Meanwhile, she adds, "things kept getting out of control" in her life away from work. "And as I got older, the drugs and alcohol became something I almost couldn't live without."

Panettiere was in such a bad place by the time Nashville wrapped in 2018 that she sent her daughter, Kaya, to Ukraine to live with her father, Wladimir Klitschko, whom she had started dating in 2009. She says her addictions eventually contributed to the end of their relationship.

"He didn't want to be around me," she says, adding, "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."

Her postpartum depression left her feeling unable to be a full-time mother.

"I never had the feeling that I wanted to harm my child, but I didn't want to spend any time with her," Panettiere shares. "There was just this gray color in my life."

The actor admits sending her daughter away 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."

Panettiere's life after Nashville spiraled into a series of well-documented altercations with her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Brian Hickerson, who has been arrested repeatedly and charged in relation to alleged physical abuse and domestic violence toward Panettiere.

Hickerson was sentenced to 45 days in county jail in April 2021 after pleading no contest to two felony counts of injuring a spouse or girlfriend. The charges stemmed from incidents between May 2019 and June 2020. Documents show Panettiere was the victim.

"I am coming forward with the truth about what happened to me with the hope that my story will empower others in abusive relationships to get the help they need and deserve," Panettiere said in a statement in July 2020. "I am prepared to do my part to make sure this man never hurts anyone again. I'm grateful for my support system, which helped me find the courage to regain my voice and my life."

Nonetheless, various media reports identified Hickerson as Panettiere's boyfriend in March of 2022, when the pair were caught on tape involved in a brutal street fight with a group of people outside of a bar in Los Angeles.

She tells People she went into rehab for eight months at one point, and she has undergone trauma therapy and inpatient treatment in the last year.

"I put a lot of work into myself, and I had to be willing to be incredibly honest," she states.

As a result, Panettiere is back to work, resurrecting her character of Kirby Reed in the upcoming new Scream film. She's also focusing on her work with Hoplon International, a charity she launched in March of 2022 that aims to raise money for Ukraine as it continues to fight against Russia's invasion.

"This hasn't been easy and there were a lot of ups and downs," she admits of her struggle for sobriety. "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."

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