Trans teens turning to alcohol, smoking to cope with gender identity harassment

BOSTON, Mass. — For transgender teens, the stress of discovering their gender identity can make an already difficult period in a child’s life even harder. A new study now finds many trans teens may be turning to alcohol and other substances to cope with the rejection, harassment, and threats they receive.

Researchers in Boston say more than half of trans and non-binary adolescents admit to smoking, drinking, and using cannabis as a coping mechanism. Their study also discovered an increase in trans-related pride and support from family members helped to lower the odds of substance use.

However, two-thirds of trans teens who have been examined by a doctor reported experiencing depression. These patients often cite rejection from relatives, friends, and LGBTQ rights under debate in the media and politics as reasons for their mental state.

This is far higher than the average number of adolescents who seek medical help for depression, about one in five. Gay and bisexual teens are roughly 1.5 times more likely to suffer poor mental health than their straight peers.

Researchers have previously found trans teens experienced significant improvement in their gender dysphoria and mental health when they are allowed to express their true gender and are surrounded by a positive support network.

Substance abuse risks triple for trans teens during stressful times

The new report asked adolescents identifying as trans or non-binary between 13 and 17 years-old to complete an online survey every six months for two years. Study authors also asked the group to catalogue stressors such as rejection, harassment, and threats along with substance abuse. Out of the participants, 11 were trans-feminine, 15 were trans-masculine, and four were non-binary.

At the beginning of the study, 17 percent reported using tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana. After two years however, that number jumped to 56 percent. High exposure to stressors significantly increased the odds of alcohol use, but not tobacco or marijuana.

Increased mental resilience and gender-related pride items predicted lower odds of substance use. Additionally, receiving support from family and social networks further reduced the odds of smoking or drinking to below the typical risk level for a teenager.

“This study found that gender minority adolescents use substances to cope with gender minority stress experiences,” says Dr. Sabra Katz-Wise of Boston Children’s Hospital in a media release. “Interventions to address substance use in gender minority adolescents should focus on addressing internalized transphobia and strengthening resilience, gender-related pride, and family functioning.”

The findings appear in the journal PLOS One.

SWNS writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.