'I don't define myself by my addiction': Rep. David LeBoeuf discusses sobriety, holding public office after OUI arrest

WORCESTER — State Rep. David H.A. LeBoeuf, D-Worcester, says he is not defined by his lowest moment, an April arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol, and says he has taken the steps to live a healthier life since that fateful day.

"The only thing I can do is take responsibility, be open about where I am and what I'm doing and everything that I can in both my position and in my personal life to make amends by helping people understand what the disease of addiction is," LeBoeuf said Friday.

As of Friday, LeBoeuf, 33, is 155 days sober and is running for re-election for his seat in the 17th Worcester District.

More than five months since becoming sober, LeBoeuf said that he is back to a level of health he has not felt since his days in college. He said the treatment has helped him to open up about mental health and addiction.

Rep. David Leboeuf talks about his sobriety.
Rep. David Leboeuf talks about his sobriety.

"A lot of times men don't talk, whether it be mental health or substance abuse and being open," LeBoeuf said. "Especially if you're in a position where you're supposed to really be the one supporting others. You kind of don't talk about your own challenges as much."

His arrest

On April 27, LeBoeuf was arrested in Quincy following reports of his black SUV being driven erratically. He failed several field sobriety tests after being pulled over.

The vehicle's right front tire was also missing and police reported damage to the rims from dragging along the pavement. Several bottles of alcohol were found in the vehicle.

Shortly after news of his arrest was made public, LeBoeuf disclosed that he suffers from addiction, would seek help and took responsibility for driving nearly four times the legal limit.

LeBoeuf said he finds going through the details of the night he hit rock bottom unhelpful in his recovery process and in instructing others about recovery.

What has been helpful, LeBoeuf said, is hearing from others who have dealt with addiction or are close to people who have battled addiction. He added that as he started his path to recovery those discussions helped him feel less alone and challenge stigma around addiction.

"I think we have this image of what substance abuse looks like and addiction, that it's simply this stereotype of someone that's unhoused and has no access to care and is not working," he said. "When really, it's every single person around us that could be affected by it."

In addition, LeBoeuf said he was fortunate to have resources such as health insurance, the right treatment program and supportive friends, family and colleagues.

LeBoeuf said he recognized he had a problem with alcohol when he was around 30 and has previously had periods of sobriety where the help he sought was insufficient. He said that he used to conceal his addiction out of concern how those around him would think and fear of placing a burden on others.

Assumes full responsibility

Alcohol was a form of self medication to deal with personal challenges for LeBoeuf, and he said his drinking had less to do with partying.

"It really had become something that I was using essentially to function, and it was because I just had some other challenges in my life, both physical and others," LeBoeuf said. "I was using it simply as an easy button."

Rep. David Leboeuf uses an app to track his sobriety.
Rep. David Leboeuf uses an app to track his sobriety.

Going down the path of self medication led LeBoeuf to lose his best judgment, he said.

LeBoeuf said he takes full responsibility for the arrest and will not blame an external factor such as stress or the anxieties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic for his actions.

The arrest, several details from the police report as well as images of LeBoeuf and the vehicle were well-publicized and spurred a call for Attorney General Maura T. Healey to investigate the incident by the Massachusetts Republican Party.

LeBoeuf said he understands that the news of his arrest would be distributed because of his role as a public official and is willing to address how public the incident was, but he said that he would have preferred for his lowest moment to not be so publicized due to the hurt it caused his family and loved ones, and if it reinforced any stigma for others dealing with addiction.

In June, LeBoeuf entered a plea agreement where he surrendered his license for 45 days, was ordered to complete a driver alcohol education course and pay $600 in fines, plus $65 per month in probation fees for one year. No travel restrictions were placed on him for the duration of his probation.

His case was continued without a finding for a year until June 20, 2023. If LeBoeuf adheres to the terms of the deal, all charges will be dismissed.

In the Statehouse, LeBoeuf said he has several colleagues who are in recovery or who have loved ones in recovery that reached out to support him in working through a balance between his workload and seeking help.

He said that nothing within the Statehouse facilitated his addiction and even some of his closest colleagues may have never seen him have a drink. In addition, LeBoeuf said he needed to learn to invest energy into addressing his personal health as he would invest into his role as a state representative.

On continuing to serve as a state representative, LeBoeuf said there is a stigma around wanting to continue pursuing a professional life while in the early stages of recovery and a belief that he should completely withdraw.

Adding that several other elected officials have been open about their past struggles with substance abuse, LeBoeuf said that he feels he has a better perspective on the struggles many constituents with addictions have.

"Having been through some of these systems firsthand, knowing what's going on, I think that gives me that perspective," LeBoeuf said. "At the end of the day, I don't define myself by this incident. I don't define myself by my addiction."

He said when the arrest comes up with constituents, most people share their own stories of recovery.

During detox, LeBoeuf said, he noticed the number of veterans and first responders that were there. It reminded him how the health care system has failed those first responders and how more needed to be done for those communities.

Some in detox were in their 20s and had already been through rehab twice. LeBoeuf said it was devastating to see the lack of prevention and long-term support for young people with addictions.

He added that there is a provider crisis where a backlog in licensing boards and professional burnout limits the number of therapists who can take certain people's insurance or even new patients in general.

The high insurance rate for recovery treatment also strengthened LeBoeuf's support for a single-payer universal health care system.

As an incumbent currently campaigning for re-election, LeBoeuf said he has to juggle his responsibilities as a state representative in a high-needs district with campaigning and his treatment.

"I'm living even more by my phone and what's on my calendar than I was before, but it all works out," LeBoeuf said.

LeBoeuf is facing Republican Paul Fullen, a Worcester firefighter, in the Nov. 8 general election.

The state representative said that he is hoping to have a debate with Fullen, who lost to LeBoeuf when he was first elected in 2018.

While wishing LeBoeuf received the help he needed, Fullen said in May that LeBoeuf's incident was a hazard to public safety. LeBoeuf said that he has not spoken to Fullen since a 2018 debate and has stayed more focused on the issues while campaigning than on his opponent.  

Over the past week, LeBoeuf said he had a nice conversation at an event about his openness with his recovery journey.

"A woman came up to me and thanked me for just being so open because she has a relative that's struggling," LeBoeuf said. "And she said as a family member, seeing someone really get up there and be honest really means a lot."

He said he has helped at least two others go into treatment who heard of his story.

This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Rep. LeBoeuf discusses sobriety, holding public office after OUI