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Lyndonville students hear how drugs, alcohol derailed a former promising high school athlete

Photos by Tom Rivers: Stephen Hill says he plunged into drug addiction beginning when he was 14 and lasting until he was 24. Hill has now been sober for more than six years.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 April 2019 at 2:42 pm

Ex-addict shares story of recovery after decade of drug abuse

LYNDONVILLE – Stephen Hill thought he could handle it. He was 14 and started smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol.

He was a freshman on the school’s hockey and lacrosse teams, playing with juniors and seniors. The older students introduced him to the party scene.

They all seemed to be having a good time. Hill wanted to fit in with that crowd.

“That first drink and first drug changed my life forever,” he told about 300 students this morning during an assembly at Lyndonville Central School. “Once you get into it, it’s so hard to get out of it.”

Hill as a freshman tried marijuana and one of his team’s captains encouraged him to sell marijuana to other students. Hill used that money to buy marijuana for himself. Then he tried cocaine. Then it was prescription painkillers that he took from a friend’s sister who had her wisdom teeth out.

By his sophomore year of high school, Hill said the drugs were taking over his life. He was failing classes. By his junior year he was kicked off the sports teams and was in drug treatment.

The programs didn’t help him break free from drugs. It wasn’t until he was 24, when he turned away from drugs and alcohol. That was about 6 ½ years ago.

“I was the one who was insane,” he said. “I was completely out of mind. I couldn’t see life without it.”

Dr. Aaron Slack, middle-high school principal at Lyndonville, introduces Stephen Hill to about 300 students in grades 6 to 12 during this morning’s assembly. Slack said the opioid epidemic is harming the local community and country.

Hill, while facing felony drug charges in two states, completed a year-long drug treatment program. When he finished the program, he was welcomed at the treatment program as an employee, helping others gain sobriety.

He also returned to college after flunking out when he was 18. He was successful in community college and then graduated from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and is currently a student at Brooklyn Law School.

Hill shared his experiences with Lyndonville students today, telling them he wasn’t trying to scare them straight or use fear to motivate them to stay away from drugs. He doesn’t think those approaches are very effective.

Many people turn to drugs and alcohol to fit in, or to cope with sadness and anxiety, he told students. These days when he feels anxious or sad, he goes for a walk or to the gym. He often will call a friend. The emotions are temporary. Before he would use drugs to cope, and then he would feel more anxious when withdrawals kicked in.

Stephen Hill is now a law school student who also speaks at schools about the dangers of drinking and using drugs.

He would then be desperate to get a drug, doing things he couldn’t imagine to feed his addiction.

He said addiction is often progressive and fatal. He sees marijuana and alcohol as precursors to harder drugs. He tried cocaine and heroin when his judgement was clouded by marijuana and alcohol. He was nearly killed in a 4-wheeler accident when he was under the influence.

Hill said there are lots of ways to have fun without using drugs or alcohol.

“Go out there and take those healthy risks,” he said. “Just don’t risk your life.”

He also urged students to get help for themselves or their friends if they are using drugs and other substances, including nicotine. Vaping has become popular among teens and young adults, and Hill said that vaping is highly addictive. He struggled with that while trying to break free from drugs.

Hill grew up in Rockland County, north of New York City. He didn’t use drugs to escape neglect or abuse. He was in a loving home with three brothers and doting parents. He excelled at sports. His three brothers didn’t get into drugs, but they suffered from his addiction as he destabilized the family, getting arrested and being so unpredictable.

Hill said he was derailed by his drug abuse, and he regrets the hell it put his family through. He missed his grandfather’s funeral because he couldn’t cope while fighting withdrawals. Hill developed a bad reputation at his high school, and that hurt the chances for his younger brother to make sports teams and have friends over to the family’s house.

He regrets the “collateral damage” to his family and friends, saying addiction is a family disease because it impacts more than just the addict.

He has made amends with family members, but he said many of his friends continue to keep their distance.

Hill urged students to accept themselves and others, and not include drugs and alcohol in their idea of fun.

Student leaders, especially, need to show a better way of socializing that doesn’t include drugs and alcohol.

“I was insecure and I wanted to fit in,” Hill said. “I should have been OK with who I was.”

Hill also is addressing Batavia students this afternoon. The Genesee-Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse invited him to speak at the local schools today.

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