By Catherine Donnelly
PhD student Charles LaBarre, LMSW, is focusing his career on helping people recover from addictions and celebrating the ways they live their lives to their full potential.
After completing a Bachelor of Arts in music at Binghamton University, he realized he wanted to help people more than he wanted to perform.
“Of all the ‘helping’ professional career choices available to me, I felt social work was the most appealing,” says LaBarre. “After completing my MSW and realizing I wanted to better understand addiction and develop interventions, attending UB was a perfect fit for my doctorate.”
LaBarre is a National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism fellow and has focused his research on developing interventions for alcohol and substance use disorders and identifying social factors related to recovery.
He noticed researchers were making general assumptions about individuals with addiction problems and primarily focusing on "why" they became addicted.
“From what I could see, there has been little consideration of how individuals overcome their problems and live life to their full potential. For example, I want to understand ‘natural recovery,’ or when someone resolves their addiction without formal treatment,” he continues.
“A subset of my work also focuses on recovery capital, which identifies resources that help individuals recover in different domains. One of my greatest experiences so far has been working with Dr. Elizabeth Bowen to create an instrument to measure recovery capital for use in research and practice settings.”
Recovery capital comprises four major domains: physical, human, social and community resources. Physical capital includes transportation, finances and shelter. Human capital comprises mental health, motivation and hope. Social capital describes the available network of family, friends and relationships. Cultural capital includes spiritual resources, community ties and cultural beliefs. All domains interact with one another.
“I am excited to study recovery capital because it is strengths-based, resiliency-focused, and is situated upon social determinants of recovery beyond ‘sheer will’ or ‘grit,’” LaBarre says.
In 2023, the school’s Buffalo Center for Social Research honored LaBarre with an Excellence in Research award for his work on the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic on alcohol consumption among individuals who started outpatient treatment before the lockdowns. He plans to study addiction recovery among sexual minority/LGBTQIA+ individuals to complete his dissertation. He appreciates his mentors, Paul Stasiewicz and Clara Bradizza, as well as faculty members Braden Linn and Bowen, for their overlapping research interests and expertise.
“I am a gay man and understand personally how being in the sexual minority community involves unique stressors, above and beyond the normal stressors of daily life,” says LaBarre.
“Preliminary research is quite troubling, as it is clear that sexual minorities may be overrepresented in recovery (11.7% of the recovery population while comprising about 4-5% of the nation) and spend less time in recovery than their heterosexual counterparts. I hope to investigate the role of minority stress and how it impacts recovery to develop adaptive treatments in health care settings to help sexual minorities cope with stress and meet their recovery goals.”
LaBarre expects to complete his dissertation in 2025 and hopes to continue to do research as a professor. “I expect my future work to be applicable to all issues of substance abuse and addiction more broadly.”