Why Transgender Teens Are At High Risk For Substance Abuse

Photographed by Stephanie Gonot.
A new study from Chapman University has found that transgender teenagers are twice as likely as their cisgender peers to have substance abuse problems.
The study, published in the Journal of School Health, looked at data concerning trans students in middle and high schools in nearly all school districts in California between 2013 and 2015. Researchers studied results of the California Healthy Kids Survey (which included 4778 transgender and 630,200 non-transgender students), examining their usage of cigarettes, tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and ecstasy as well as non-medical use of prescription painkillers, diet pills, Ritalin or Adderall, and cold medicine.
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Transgender teens were about 2.5 times more likely to use cocaine/methamphetamine in their lifetime, and more than twice as likely to report inhalant use as well as prescription pain medication use. They were also 3 times more likely to use cigarettes in school.
Researchers say this could be due to the disproportionate stress that trans teens experience.
"Transgender adolescents face tremendous social stress in families and schools, which often leads to behavioral health disparities," Kris De Pedro, PhD, assistant professor at Chapman University and lead author on the study, said in a statement.
According to a 2015 study from Harvard University, transgender youth are also at disproportionate risk for depression and suicide, which can certainly factor into the social stress and health disparities that Dr. Pedro mentioned.
The takeaway, researchers said, is that we need to have better systems in place (such as community and school-based interventions) to help reduce drug use amongst trans youth.
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"Drug use in youth has long-reaching effects into adulthood," Dr. Pedro said in the statement. "While we have policies in place in California, we need a big conversation about transgender youth and we need teachers to be a part of that."
If you are struggling with substance abuse, please call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for free and confidential information.
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