Support Trans Youth To Decrease High Rates of Drug Use, Experts Say

By Britni de la Cretaz 08/23/17

A study found that transgender youth are twice as likely to use drugs compared with their cisgender peers.

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Harassment and discrimination have a lot to do with it

A study looking at rates of substance use among middle and high school students found that transgender students were more than twice as likely to use substances as their cisgender peers. The study, published in the Journal of School Health, analyzed data from the 2013-2015 California Healthy Kids Survey, which included 4,778 trans students and 630,200 students who did not identify as trans.

Researchers looked at students’ use of a variety of substances including cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, inhalants, cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, prescription painkillers, diet pills, Ritalin, Adderall, and cold medicine. They also looked at past 30-day substance use in school. The results were significant, and alarming.

Trans students were 78% likelier to have used inhalants, 89% likelier to have used ecstasy, and 93% likelier to have used Ritalin or Adderall. They were two-and-a-half times likelier to have used cocaine or methamphetamine. This data backs up previous research, including a 2015 study that found trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming students had increased odds of alcohol, marijuana, and illicit drug use when compared to their cisgender peers.

Research in Canada has found similar results. A project funded by the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) in 2015, called Pieces to Pathways, noted that “[gender minority] communities are subject to increased social marginalization, and therefore experience more adverse health outcomes.”

Trans youth have also been shown to have higher rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, and suicidal ideation than cisgender youth. A 2016 study found that an astonishing 89.7% of trans youth reported anxiety or depression. Another study found that 30% of trans youth report a history of at least one suicide attempt, and nearly 42% report a history of self-injury.

Researchers for this most recent study say their findings have major implications for schools, writing, “School health professionals and other school staff play critical roles in preventing substance use among transgender students by supporting their health and well-being during life challenges and physical transitions.”

Research also shows that support and acceptance from adults in their life can have a hugely positive impact on the mental well-being of young trans individuals.

“There is no question that disproportionate rates of mental health problems among transgender people are due to stigma, discrimination and hostility in our culture,” Dr. Stephen Russell, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told Broadly last year. “Children look to their primary caregivers for nurturance and support. True rejection is evolutionarily devastating.”

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.

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