Hayden Panettiere Speaks Out About Battling Substance Abuse, Postpartum Depression: 'I Was Drowning'

Hayden Panettiere is getting real about her struggles with substance abuse and postpartum depression.

In a recent cover story for Women’s Health, the Nashville alum opened up overcoming the serious health issues that cost her full custody of her daughter, Kaya. Panettiere, now 33, has been a working actress she was 4 years old. Her star rose astronomically in her early 20s, and the newfound spotlight created a lot of pressure.

At 22, she began drinking heavily to self-soothe. “I was being told how to be and how to live by so many people in my life,” she explained. “I wanted certain decisions to be my own, and nobody could stop me. What I put in my body was like an act of defiance.”

Panettiere was able to keep her drinking problem under wraps — that is, until she became a mother. After giving birth to Kaya in 2014, the actress experienced devastating postpartum depression, or PPD. It felt “like all the walls are closing in,” she told the magazine, and she started drinking again to cope.

To make matters worse, Panettiere also experienced a flare-up of a years-old neck injury around this time. She was prescribed opioids for the pain, but her tolerance “got so high so fast that it became a problem.” Soon, she was medicating her stress away with a dangerous double-whammy of booze and painkillers.

Come 2015, Panettiere checked herself into rehab. She went on to leave the entertainment industry so she could focus on her health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, she resorted to drinking yet again.

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When she turned 30, she decided to quit drinking once and for all. “My body was like, ‘enough,’” she recalled. “My face was swollen. I had jaundice. My eyes were yellow. I had to go to a liver specialist. I was holding on to weight that wasn’t normally there. My hair was thin and coming out in clumps.”

Panettiere is not alone in either struggle. Roughly 13 percent of people who just gave birth will develop PPD, which Mayo Clinic defines as a serious, long-lasting form of depression. Symptoms include severe mood swings, excessive crying, and panic or anxiety attacks. Other celebrities have spoken out about battling PPD, too, from Reese Witherspoon to Serena Williams.

The actress is also among the estimated 17 percent of U.S. adults who binge-drink. This dangerous habit is linked to numerous long-term health issues, including chronic liver and heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who drink excessively are four times more likely to abuse other substances, such as opiates.

The good news? Panettiere is now in recovery from alcohol and opioid abuse, which she attributes to enrolling in a 12-step program and undergoing intensive trauma therapy. She is also making her grand return to the screen with a starring role in Scream VI, out this month.

Speaking publicly about her past is nerve-wracking, Panettiere admitted, but she felt compelled to share her story. “A lot of people feel stuck. I want to let them know they’re not alone.”

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