(Editors note: The names in this article, except for Judge Timothy Lawliss, have been changed to protect their privacy.)
CHAMPLAIN - According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are nearly 11 million underage drinkers in the U.S. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says nearly one-third of all 12th graders have used marijuana.
In hope of changing these statistics,Clinton County Family Court Judge Timothy Lawliss is traveling to schools in the county with two past drug and alcohol abusers.
"I preside over drug court and I asked members of the drug court team if they had any suggestions for somebody who would be on the younger side, who would be good speakers to come in and talk to middle school and high school kids," Lawliss explained.
He was told of "James," a man who is now 14 years sober, from both alcohol and marijuana. James also suggested his friend "Chloe," who is also several years sober.
On Dec. 3, Lawliss, Chloe and James visited Northeastern Clinton Central School to speak students in seventh through 12th grade.
"When I come and share with you guys about what happened to me when I was drinking and drugging, it really reinforces all the bad stuff and how it really affected my family and my friends and my life," said Chloe to the seventh- and eighth-graders. "I do this because it really is my hope and my goal that if there is one person in this room that can hear something that I say today that can help you in your future ... then I have been very successful here."
Chloe had her first drink of alcohol at the age of 13.
"As soon as I put that beer in my mouth and in my system, something changed in me," recalled Chloe. "I instantly felt like I had the ability to be funny ... I would try to be charming. I could talk to the boy that I liked. I could be the popular one."
Chloe felt alcohol had been what was missing from her life. Soon she was drinking to the point of blacking out and vomiting. Things got so bad for her, her mother sent her to live with her father.
"I get down there and suddenly I'm not around my 21-year-old friends to buy me alcohol. So, I do the next thing," Chloe explained.
While living with her father, Chloe changed from drinking alcohol to smoking marijuana every day.
After a short time with her father, Chloe moved back with her mother and started drinking again. She told NCCS students of one particular party she attended, which caused embarrassment for her throughout the rest of her high school career.
"I passed out at a party and I was halfdressed," Chloe recalled. "To give you a good visual, my make up was run down my face, my hair was all nasty, I had vomit in my hair. I looked disgusting. And, somebody took my picture in that state ... and they made posters and they went and they promptly put those posters up in my high school and all down my small town."
From that moment on, Chloe was known as "Drunk Whore" by her classmates.
"Suddenly, that really glorious glamorous kid that I thought I was, the party girl, the one that everyone wanted to hang out with and get drunk and high with, nobody was talking to me anymore," she said. "I really didn't want to be that person. But, I didn't know how not to be."
Eventually, with the help of a guidance counselor at her school, Chloe made it to college at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. Although she promised herself she wouldn't get drunk and high every day, she did.
"I went out one night and got really drunk," said Chloe. "I just had it. I was emotionally, mentally, spiritually was just dead. I looked in the mirror and there was just nothing looking back at me. I was a shell of a person."
That night, Chloe took two bottles of aspirin in an attempt to end her life. Luckily, a friend came by and realized what happened and she was brought to the hospital to have her stomach pumped.
"Next thing I know I'm waking up in an intensive care unit," recalled Chloe. "My body just feels like it's been destroyed and I'm broken. I said 'Okay, I want my mommy.'"
"That was the beginning of the end for me," she added. "That was when things started to change in a better direction."
Chloe went back to college to finish her degree, where she was also on the dean's list for the next three years.
"My life today is bar none way better than it ever could have been when I was drinking and drugging," she said.
James began his story by playing a news clip from 1994, when he was arrested for vehicular manslaughter for killing a friend while driving under the influence.
His first experience with alcohol was at age 8.
"My father was camping with my brother and I and he wanted to go fishing in the morning," remembered James. "So, he thought it was a good idea to give my brother and I a couple of glasses of wine each so in the morning we would sleep in."
The only memory James has of the trip is the feeling of having alcohol for the first time.
"It was like something I found that I had been missing my whole life. I felt a sense of freedom," he said. "I felt like I was comfortable in my own skin."
By eighth grade, James would spend every weekend at a friend's house drinking.
"I never thought my drinking affected anybody," James said.
Now, years later, he knows during those years, his mother would turn her phone off in her room and turn the fan on high so she wouldn't hear the phone ring when someone called to tell her James was dead.
"That was her way of coping with what I was doing," he said.
At age 17, James was arrested for vehicular manslaughter and put in state prison.
"It's a pretty lonely thing to go through, going to jail," he told the students. "I was scared and I was alone."
To cope with his emotions, James immediately found people in jail who could put him in contact with drugs and alcohol. After being released from prison, he was back to drinking regularly, even drinking and driving.
Seven months after his release from prison, James was back in handcuffs, for attempted burglary.
This time, however, his brother was also arrested, which seemed to be a wake-up call for James.
In prison, he attended rehab, because he "couldn't anymore ignore what alcohol had done to my life."
"It was so obvious at 21 years old, being in state prison for the second time, wasn't normal," James said. "Not knowing how to cope with just basic emotions without taking a drink or drug, wasn't normal. So, I embraced the recovery program."
"Unfortunately we know that [Chloe] and I are the minority," he added. "Most addicted people will never find recovery. Most addicted people will die from this disease."