February 26, 2020

Transgender Teens and Substance Abuse
“Transgender students face discrimination and prejudice, with 1 in 9 pupils receiving death threats. Coping mechanisms when living in a hostile environment will be many and varied, and unfortunately, the use of drugs and alcohol is a route that many young people turn to in times of stress.”

~ Susie Green, CEO of Mermaids, a UK charity supporting gender-diverse youth

According to a report published in 2017, there are over 22,000 teenagers in California who self-identify as transgender, or about 1 out of every 137. This is concerning, because a different study conducted by Chapman University determined that transgender teens are twice as likely to struggle with substance abuse issues than their cisgender peers.

Chapman University, located in Orange County, studied almost 5000 transgender and more than 600,000 cisgender students in the state for a two-year period and uncovered some alarming trends.

Transgender teenagers are:

  • Over three times more likely to smoke cigarettes.
  • Nearly three times as likely to report past-month inhalant use.
  • Two-and-a-half times as likely to admit to lifetime cocaine or methamphetamine use.
  • At greater than doubled risk of opioid painkiller use.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Kris De Pedro, PhD, said, “Transgender adolescents face tremendous social stress in families and schools, which often leads to behavioral health disparities… While California is a very progressive state in terms of social policies, our study’s findings indicate a need for community- and school-based interventions that reduce substance abuse among transgender youth. Drug use in youth has long-reaching effects into adulthood.”

Substance Use as a Response to Transgender Stress

Teens identifying as transgender often face tremendous difficulties—pressure from their families, societal stress, and even harassment from transphobic bullies. Worst of all, there is often no local resource that addresses their unique mental health needs, not just as teenagers, but as teens who don’t conform to gender norms.

As a result, they deal with emotional pain by turning elsewhere—alcohol and drugs.

Dr. De Pedro continues, saying, “When it comes to transgender teens, it’s the transphobia that impacts [their drug use], not being transgender…In order to reduce the likelihood of a kid to resort to drugs as a means to cope, there has to be some sort of social support mechanism.  We have these drug prevention programs in schools that are for everybody, but we really need to fill a fundamental need for [transgender] kids, and that’s the need to feel accepted and affirmed.”

Getting Help for Your Transgender Teen

Since 1978, Teensavers Treatment Centers has been one of the most-trusted drug treatment programs in Southern California. Located conveniently in Orange County, Teensavers is an invaluable resource for teens and families in crisis due to addictive or mental health disorders.

If your child is struggling, contact Teensavers TODAY to get the help and support you need.

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