Like many who struggle with addiction in the public eye, Carter thought she could be strong enough to keep her problem hidden. "I kept thinking I could control it and handle it. It's like standing on a precipice -- we've all been to the Grand Canyon, but now there's no beautiful rocks, it's just this abyss," she explained.
She tried repeatedly to quit on her own. But kept slipping.
Ultimately feeling trapped and powerless, she even contemplated her own death. "If I had gotten in an accident I thought it would be over with. I would never kill myself but it would be over with, and it would be hard for a little while. People would get on with their lives, because I can't control this," she said.
She finally entered rehab, but her secret was out when the tabloids learned of her drinking problem. There was ample fodder for the supermarket press -- the picture-perfect woman who'd led a storybook life wasn't so perfect after all.
But Carter made it through the difficult rehab process. She's been sober now for eight years, and at 54, she no longer tries to be perfect.
"I think I'm happier with the way I look now than I was when I was in my 20s," she said.
Now, she's clearly as ease with herself and enjoying a career upswing. Her latest project is the summer Disney movie "Sky High" which opens today. (Disney is the corporate parent of ABC News.)
In a sense she's come full circle. In "Sky High" she plays the principal at a school for superheroes.
And next week, she'll be featured in the big-budget summer action comedy, "Dukes of Hazzard."
These days Carter walks the red carpet with her husband of 22 years and her teenage kids. And having weathered the storms, her moment back in the limelight seems somehow sweeter.
"I'm enjoying it this time around. It's kind of great to still be around, you know, still be kicking and still be relevant. And I know that this is cyclical as well, and this too will pass. And so I'm just rocking and rolling."