A Child Star's Struggle With Addiction

She was the cute preschooler behind the famous Oscar Meyer ad campaign, as well as in the Sizzler's restaurant commercial. Jodie Sweetin's success in commercials led her to a big break at the age of 5 -- the role of Stephanie Tanner on a new television sitcom "Full House."

Before long, the show was a smash success and the kindergartner was a star -- a star who even had her own catch phrase -- "How rude!" But Sweetin says she didn't know how big of a success she had become.

"I'd go and do these appearances and sign autographs and it would be -- you know -- like thousands of kids there to see me and I was like, 'Me?" Sweetin recalls.

Among her castmates were the Olsen twins, Mary Kate and Ashley, who would later shoot to superstardom. All the child actors actually grew up on the Warner Bros. studio lot.

"You grow up very fast. You become an adult very quickly. Some people regard you as an adult, so you're in adult situations at an earlier age than most people are," Sweetin says. "You're not 5 or 8 or 9. You're 25 when you're on the set and you're doing your job."

But after eight years, Sweetin lost that job when "Full House" was canceled. Suddenly Sweetin's exhilarating life as a child star was over, and she was forced to contemplate the question of what to do next.

"It was, you know, sort of like a midlife crisis at age 13. Like, 'What now? What do I do with my life?" Sweetin says.

Suddenly, the 13-year-old celebrity was just another high school freshman -- but one with an identity crisis. Sweetin says she was always questioning her friendships, often wondering if people just liked her because she was on a series and not because of who she was.

Sweetin appeared as a guest on a couple of television shows but still felt lost.

"One minute, everyone loves you. … And then, the next minute they're like, 'Who?'" Sweetin explains. "It's hard for a child. It's hard for an adult. It's hard for anyone."

People magazine reporter Jess Cagle has followed Sweetin's career. "When you're a child star, you're the coolest kid in the room," Cagle says. "In high school, what makes you cool? Doing drugs. The quickest way to become cool again is to get into that crowd. And that's probably what happened to Jodie."

At first, Sweetin recalls, she drank casually and smoked pot, but by the time she got married, at age 20, to a police officer, Sweetin was into a far more serious drug: crystal methamphetamine.

The drug made her feel euphoric, she says. And when she came off the drug she remembers "feeling just empty. Just like your everything inside of you had just been sort of hollowed out and you were like this shell."

Somehow she managed to keep her worsening habit a secret.

"I was hiding it from my husband. I was hiding it from my family, and that became very draining," Sweetin says.

The irony was that Sweetin was married to a police officer. But she says he had no idea what was going on. "It was like I had these two lives."

Sweetin's behavior became erratic. Her weight plunged to 100 pounds. And those around her -- including her mother -- sensed that something was wrong.

But, Sweetin says, she was good at maintaining the appearance that everything was normal.

No Longer a Secret

Finally, after two years of heavy drug use, Sweetin landed in the hospital after passing out in a friend's car, and her secret was exposed.

That was when everyone discovered her addiction. "[It] was when my family found out and my husband and all this and that was for me a huge awakening that I needed to go, 'Wow, I'm either going to wind up killing myself doing this or I can do something different."

Sweetin went into rehabilitation, and her marriage ended. But she says she has since managed to stay clean and sober for nearly two years.

Learning the Hard Way

Sweetin says she learned two lessons from her battle with drug addiction. "I have learned that it's never too late to make a different choice. … And to have a passion for something."

Even after a dozen years of little success, Sweetin discovered that her passion is still show business.

"I love this business more than anything in the world. And I just can't explain the excitement I get when I get on the set and I get to do what I love doing," Sweetin says.

Following Her Passion

Now Sweetin is happily working on an outrageous new show called "Pants-Off Dance-Off" on the Fuse Network.

It's a long way from "Full House" to this: a reality television show from the tacky fringe -- where contestants dance and, believe it or not, strip to the music.

Sweetin says she saw clips of the show and got hooked.

Sweetin isn't the first former child star using reality television to find the road back to stardom.

Remember Danny Bonaduce of "The Partridge Family?" He's the star of VH-1's reality show "Breaking Bonaduce." Then there's Christopher Knight from "The Brady Bunch," who wound up on VH-1's "My Fair Brady."

Sweetin likes the fact she gets to be herself on the reality show. "I'm hosting it as myself. And I get to be 24 and have fun."

Now Sweetin has high hopes for a leading role in an independent film that's in the works; she also regularly auditions for other film roles. Sweetin feels strong that she's in a better position now -- free from her drug addiction -- to pursue her passion.