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Addiction In The Transgender Community

The Risk Of Addiction In Transgender Persons

Who becomes addicted to drugs varies from person to person, and there is no one cause for someone to fall victim to addiction. However, the more risk factors a person has increases their chances of developing addiction after using drugs or alcohol. Risk factors can be thought of as biological (gender or genes) or environmental (community or home life). For example, certain risk factors, like harassment and violence, may increase the likelihood of addiction in the transgender community. The transgender community may face more discrimination, challenges, and stigma, as well as social pressure and isolation, that is likely to increase stress and the risk of behavioral issues, mental health conditions, and addiction. Addiction is defined as a chronic brain disease likely to change how a person thinks and behaves. By changing the brain and the structure of how it works, addiction is potentially a life-long disease that can cause harmful behaviors and increase health risks. Many people take drugs to feel good, and may initially see using drugs as positive and fun. Over time, however, their sense of control over drugs or alcohol begins to diminish, and enjoyable activities will likely become less enjoyable, making drug use necessary for them to enjoy life. Once addicted, a transgender person will likely:

  • compulsively use the drug
  • continually use the drug despite obvious harm
  • constantly crave the drug
  • show impaired judgment relating to drugs or alcohol

While the research of addiction is the transgender community is limited, sexual minorities (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender), or LGBT persons, may be at greater risk of developing substance use disorders than the sexual majority (heterosexual or straight). [inline_cta_three]

Sexual Minorities And Substance Use Disorder

According to a 2015 survey, sexual minority adults were twice as likely to use illicit drugs within the past year than heterosexuals. Adults that identified as a sexual minority were also more likely to use marijuana and misuse prescription drugs. The survey found, in the past year, that sexual minorities were more likely to use, or misuse, the following drugs:

  • cocaine
  • Hallucinogens (LSD, PCP)
  • heroin
  • inhalants
  • Methamphetamines (ecstasy, MDMA)
  • prescription stimulants (Adderall)
  • prescription tranquilizers (Xanax, Valium)

Other research found that addiction within the transgender community, and other sexual minorities, is likely to begin with alcohol use. Many of the LGBT subjects in drug treatment involved in a 2013 study began abusing alcohol before submitting to rehab for a substance use disorder. A substance use disorder, or SUD, can be thought of as substance use, or simply addiction; the risk of developing an SUD increases within sexual minorities, perhaps due to increased social pressure and discrimination. Studies have found that people within the transgender community, and other sexual minorities, are more likely to need substance use treatment than their heterosexual, or straight, counterparts. Many LGBT persons suffering from addiction enter treatment facilities with severe SUDs. While the severity of the SUD differs from person to person, addiction in the transgender community may be the result of the victimization many LGBT individuals experience, which can have long lasting mental effects. One of the major health concerns for individuals within the transgender community is comorbidity or co-occurring disorders, also called dual diagnosis.

The Transgender Community And Co-occurring Disorders

A co-occurring disorder is when a person suffers from both mental illness and addiction. Mental illness is usually characterized by changes in behavior, thought, and mood. A person suffering from mental illness may have trouble engaging in school, at work, or at home. Any function of life or relationships may be complicated by mental illness. Mental illness and addiction in the transgender community may arise from a variety of harsh social realities. While research is limited, transgender persons are often exposed to discrimination, lack support social, and face stigma and minority stress. Research does show that transgender and sexual minority persons are more likely to have a co-occurring disorder than heterosexual or straight persons. The exact cause of a co-occurring disorder in transgender populations vary from person to person and may be unknown. What is known is that co-occurring disorders, or comorbidity, complicates the method and course of treatment. The relationship between both disorders is complex, and treating one, and not the other, can further develop the severity of each disorder. If seeking treatment for an SUD, people within the transgender community should always be screened for mental health conditions. Research shows that transgender children and adolescents may be at a higher risk of:

While drug programs tailored to the LGBT population are limited, some treatment options may include a transgender theory approach for treating addiction.

LGBT Treatment Options For Addiction

Treating addiction in the transgender community calls for an understanding of the unique risk factors associated with individuals in the LGBT population. Risk factors like family rejection and discrimination are directly related to sexual identity, and effective treatment should incorporate therapies that emphasize the nature of gender, or theory guided substance use treatment programs. If effective, these programs will likely use transgender theory in therapy sessions to help connect with individuals and help them understand themselves and their addiction. Transgender theory examines the relationship of a person’s physical self with their sexual and gender identity. While some treatment programs are likely beginning to use transgender theory for those suffering from addiction in the transgender community, there are very few transgender-specific drug programs available as of this writing. However, there are many treatment options for addiction that are successful, and effective treatment is likely to focus on the particular needs of the individual.

Other Treatments Options For Addiction

Addiction in the transgender community must be addressed with more programs oriented towards the relationship between addiction and gender identity. But, there are many effective drug treatment programs that can help a transgender person achieve healing and recovery. Many of the most effective drug treatment programs occur in inpatient treatment centers. Inpatient treatment centers are generally effective because they offer around the clock, 24-hour care. Treatment at an inpatient facility may start with a medically supervised detoxification, which allows medical staff to closely monitor a patient’s health, and potentially administer medication, during the often painful process of withdrawal. Other medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, may follow depending on the drug of the use. For some SUDs, like addiction to opioids, several medications may be available to reduce drug cravings and prevent future relapse. Effective treatment must also offer behavioral therapy, which is also likely available at an inpatient treatment center. Behavioral therapy aims to change a person’s thinking and attitudes towards drugs, and may utilize a variety of therapies to teach a person how to remain sober after treatment. Behavioral therapies are successful when they focus on the needs of the individual, and some therapies may focus on gender identity and other issues relevant to those suffering from addiction in the transgender community.