If you or a loved one is transgender, you know it has been a long, hard struggle to find your identity, feel comfortable in it and make changes to support it. You know you still face social, personal and political challenges. If these challenges include addiction and mental health issues, you aren’t alone. The Center for American Progress explains, “Between 20 percent to 30 percent of gay and transgender people abuse substances, compared to about 9 percent of the general population.” Don’t feel discouraged by this. It just shows that now is the time to take action and create the life you want and deserve. You are strong, and you have reason to hope.
Social Stress and Your Health
So why do so many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have to deal with drug abuse? A lot of this substance use stems from marginalization, prejudice and stigma. You may feel isolated or different from people around you. You may feel judged or misunderstood. Misconceptions and discrimination affect housing, employment, relationship recognition, health care, religious beliefs and other areas of life. They lead to what the American Psychological Association (APA) refers to as minority stress, or the difficulties experienced by the members of a minority group within a larger social environment.2
Minority stress has a real impact on your or a loved one’s mental and physical health. The APA explains the effects of this stress: “Having multiple minority statuses increases the likelihood of experiencing homophobia, stigma, isolation and rejection, along with heightened risk for sexual risk behavior or substance use.” You are also at increased risk for serious mental health concerns, as NBC News points out, “Transgender people suffer high rates of depression — up to 60 percent — due to stigma, discrimination and abuse, jeopardizing their physical and mental health.”3 When you face minority stress on a daily basis, it will affect how you feel and how you view yourself and the world around you.
Stigma and Drug Abuse
If you feel stigmatized, left out or ignored, you may respond by using drugs or alcohol. This may or may not be a conscious decision. You just know you don’t like how you feel, and you want to change that. Unfortunately drug abuse doesn’t create real, positive change. In fact it makes things worse. However you aren’t alone in turning to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to find escape, relief or answers.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shares, “Cigarette smoking among LGB individuals in the U.S. is higher than among heterosexual/straight individuals. Nearly 1 in 4 LGB adults smoke cigarettes compared with about 1 in 6 heterosexual/straight adults…Cigarette smoking prevalence among transgender adults is reported to be higher than among the general population of adults.”4 While tobacco use isn’t always considered drug abuse, there is a connection between the two.
The CDC continues: “The transgender population is considered especially vulnerable because of high rates of substance abuse, depression, HIV infection, and social and employment discrimination, all of which are associated with higher smoking prevalence.” These same social stressors are connected to other drug use. As Out shares, “Twenty-five percent of gay and transgender people abuse alcohol, compared to 5 to 10 percent of the general population.”5 If you or a loved one is transgender, you are at increased risk for alcohol and drug abuse. If you struggle with substance abuse, you have a unique opportunity to find health and balance.
What Can You Do About Drug Abuse?
Reading statistics can be overwhelming. If drug abuse is such a big problem in the transgender community, what can you do about it? How can you help yourself or help a friend or family member? Are there resources available? The answer is less complex than the questions. Start by talking with culturally competent health care resources. These resources include professionals who do not judge and who have experience addressing the unique needs of transgender individuals.
Michael’s House provides compassionate, comprehensive care. We understand your unique challenges, and we offer unique opportunities for growth and healing. All treatment plans include integrated care that addresses all aspects of mental, physical and emotional health. We help you do so much more than simply stop using drugs or alcohol. We help you develop healthy coping skills, positive relationships and a deeper understanding of who you are. We help you heal, grow and move forward in life.
1 Hunt, Jerome. “Why the Gay and Transgender Community Experiences Higher Rates of Substance Use.” Center for American Progress. 9 Mar. 2012.
1 Dentato, Michael. “The Minority Stress Perspective.” American Psychological Association. Apr. 2012.
1 “Study: Transgender People Face Health Challenges Worldwide.” NBC News. 17 Jun. 2016.
1 “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons and Tobacco Use.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 28 Feb. 2017.
1 Berlin, Mike. “Roughly 25% of the LGBT Population Abuses Substances.” Out. 14 Mar. 2012.