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At 15, Hayden Panettiere was fed "happy pills" by an adult. It led to a cycle of self-destruction.

This post deals with drug and alcohol addiction, depression and domestic violence, and might be triggering for some readers.

At the tender age of 15, Hayden Panettiere says things started to go downhill for her.

The American actor/model/singer had already dipped her toe into the entertainment industry by the time she was in her early tweens, landing a bunch of roles in soap operas and movies during the early 2000s.

She was the quintessential girl next door. But at a certain point, her fame became murky. 

In a new profile interview, Panettiere has opened up about the struggles she has faced over the years, and where it perhaps stems from. She said to PEOPLE that the pressure, the drugs and the anxiety that came with Hollywood certainly took a toll on her.

Watch Hayden Panettiere talk about her experience with postnatal depression. Post continues below.

Because at age 15, Panettiere said someone in her team began to offer her "happy pills" before walking red carpets. 

"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," she reflected.

The 'happy pills' soon evolved into serious alcohol consumption and occasionally taking opioids. And for a while, Panettiere was able to keep hold of it – keeping her addiction behind closed doors. 

A year or two later, she landed the role of superpowered cheerleader Claire Bennet on Heroes, along with a string of other teen-oriented films. 

"My saving grace is that I couldn't be messy while on set and working," she 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."

In 2009 when she was 19, Panettiere met and fell in love with Ukrainian boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko. They split two years later, but reconciled in 2013, getting engaged in October of that year. Their daughter Kaya was born in December 2014. 

But around the time of her daughter's birth, Panettiere publicly revealed she was struggling with depression, leading her to rehab.

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"I never had the feeling that I wanted to harm my child, but I didn't want to spend any time with her," Panettiere said, confirming she went back to drinking after Kaya was born. "There was just this grey colour in my life."

Hayden and Wladimir during their relationship. Image: Getty. The alcohol and prescription drugs were beginning to seriously affect her relationship with Klitschko too.

"He didn't want to be around me," she recalled to PEOPLE. "I didn't want to be around me. But with the [drugs] 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."

The same year Kaya was born, Panettiere's iconic show Nashville began airing, which also starred Connie Britton. Panettiere played troubled country singer Juliette Barnes on Nashville, and it soon became apparent that her character's inner demons mirrored her own.

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"We have connected, and I think she's doing really well," Britton told the Associated Press when news of Panettiere's rehab stays became public. "She's right where she needs to be, and that's really good, and we all support her in that."

By 2018, Nashville had finished up, and Klitschko and Panettiere's relationship had ended. Panettiere then made the decision to send daughter Kaya to live with Klitschko in Ukraine. It left her devastated.

"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. I would have the shakes when I woke up and could only function with sipping alcohol."

Listen to The Spill: the forgotten tragedy of Hayden Panettiere. Post continues after audio.


The drinking worsened and eventually Panettiere was hospitalised, suffering from jaundice. She was no longer the younger version of herself who was 'managing' her alcoholism. She couldn't simply bounce right back after a bender. Her body was catching up.

Then Panettiere began a relationship with real estate agent/actor Brian Hickerson.

In 2019, Hickerson was arrested over an alleged incident of domestic violence at the couple's home in Los Angeles. On Valentine's Day in 2020, he was then arrested for a separate instance of domestic violence. He had allegedly punched Panettiere in the face.

She has since referred to that relationship as a "very dark time" in her life.

"A lot of women go through what I went through, and I want people to know it's okay to ask for help. None of it is okay, and I want to make sure that everybody knows that. But I am open to people who are willing to get help and make amends," she said in her profile interview this week. 

Panettiere noted that her ex-partner Hickerson has since "gone to treatment and done his time," adding, "I'm trying to live in a place of forgiveness", because doing so it has given her "a lot of inner peace".

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As for what life looks like now for Panettiere, she said she is in a much better place and is sober. She also said she has been working on her relationship with her daughter who is now seven.

"She has a beautiful life. I was just with her. She's just an amazing child. She's smart, and she's funny, and for whatever reason, she still loves me. She's a happy kid open to a huge world. And she has more love than anybody I've ever met," Panettiere said.

Given the war in Ukraine, Kaya is out of the country and away from the conflict, with her famous dad remaining in Ukraine to contribute to the war effort.

Both Panettiere and her ex, Klitschko, have been using their public profiles to talk about the war in Ukraine and booster support. As Panettiere said about Klitschko: "Every time I hear his voice or get a text from him, it's such a relief."

Panettiere credited her most recent rehab stay, which was an eight-month long stint, for helping her through addiction and letting her find peace. 

"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."

If this post brought up any issues for you, you can contact Drug Aware, Australia's 24hr alcohol and drug support line. You can reach them on (08) 9442 5000 or 1800 198 024.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

The Men's Referral Service is also available on 1300 766 491 or via online chat at www.ntv.org.au.

Feature Image: Mamamia/Getty/Instagram @haydenpanettiere.