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Study Reveals Transgender Youths at Greater Risk for Substance Abuse

Alcohol and drug abuse

In the past, research has been able to identify risk factors in children that correlate with an increased risk for alcohol and drug abuse. Some of these conditions include a lack of parental supervision, early aggressive behavior, and poverty. Now, a new study has discovered another risk factor: being transgender.

The Chapman Study

The results of the study were first published by researchers from Chapman University in April of 2017 in the Journal of School Health. The article, entitled “Substance Use Among Transgender Students in California Public Middle and High Schools,” referenced the data gathered in the 2013-2015 California Healthy Kids Survey that polled hundreds of thousands of Golden State schoolchildren of all ages.

The research determined that when compared with their non-transgender peers, transgender students were:

  • Roughly 2.5 times as likely to have taken cocaine or methamphetamines in their lifetime
  • Around 2.2 times as likely to have taken prescription pain medication in the previous 30 days
  • About 2.8 times as likely to have used inhalants in the previous 30 days
  • 89 percent more likely to have taken ecstasy in their lifetime
  • 54 percent more likely to have used marijuana in the previous 30 days, and more than 2.8 times as likely to have smoked pot at school
  • 49 percent more likely to have consumed at least five alcoholic beverages in the previous 30 days, and more than 2.1 times as likely to have abused alcohol at school

Co-Occurring Mental Illness May Play a Part

A 2016 study in the journal Pediatrics found that more than two out of five teenaged or young adult transgender women had been diagnosed with a mental health or substance dependence problem. The blog Trans Research reports on data being gathered at a Vancouver, Canada clinic which treats youths with gender dysphoria (a state of extreme distress experienced by some transgender individuals). The article says that:

  • More than one of every three patients suffered from a mood disorder.
  • Almost one out of every four patients suffered from an anxiety disorder.
  • More than one out of every four patients were diagnosed with two or more psychiatric conditions.

Given these findings, it is not surprising that psychiatric problems and certain mental illnesses may play a significant role in some transgender teens’ decision to turn to alcohol or drugs.

Tips For Parents

For parents of transgender youth who are worried that their kids may begin abusing drugs or alcohol, here are some suggestions:

  1. Communicate with the child calmly and ask if they have been drinking or using drugs. Remain calm even if the child becomes angry or defensive.
  2. Aim for incremental progress. It is unrealistic to expect the child to admit to substance abuse and stop immediately. Set small goals, spell out the consequences for drug use, and reiterate your love and support.
  3. Concentrate on the underlying problems instead of the symptoms. Rather than focus entirely on the substance abuse issue alone, try to determine the source of the child’s suffering (i.e., bullying, depression, etc.).
  4. Be especially vigilant for suicidal tendencies. A report by an LGBT task force discovered that 41 percent of transgender people surveyed attempted suicide, so be sure to look for the warning signs.
Alcohol and drug abuse

Understand that Addiction Requires Its Own Treatment

One strategy to avoid is to allow a substance-abusing transgender child to begin taking medications such as cross-sex hormones or puberty blockers. Because the causes of substance abuse are varied and complex, it is unreasonable to assume that changing the child’s physical gender will magically make all emotional or behavioral problems go away.

Moreover, many in the medical community strongly discourage the use of these drugs on patients whose bodies are still changing and growing. In June of 2017, the American College of Pediatricians wrote: “There is a serious ethical problem with allowing irreversible, life-changing procedures to be performed on minors who are too young to give valid consent themselves.” This statement echoed verbiage in the Hastings Center Report in 2014 which reads, “[T]here is no expert clinical consensus regarding the treatment of prepubescent children who meet diagnostic criteria for… gender dysphoria.”

One major reason is that the use of these medications on minors has not been fully studied or evaluated. Perhaps more importantly, the ACP says, “80 percent to 95 percent of children with [gender dysphoria] will accept the reality of their biological sex by late adolescence.” Several other studies have confirmed this observation.

Here is the good news. There are plenty of resources to help teens who are dealing with drug or alcohol abuse issues, and the awareness of the susceptibility of transgender youth to substance abuse is growing rapidly. With the right guidance, some perseverance, and a lot of love, transgender teens can overcome substance abuse and addiction and go on to live happy adult lives.

For more information about substance abuse treatment for teens, contact us today.

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