Understanding, Acceptance Can Reduce Substance Abuse For Those Struggling With Gender Dysphoria

Trying to find one’s true identity can be complicated, especially for someone who has never really felt comfortable in their own skin or surroundings. Many people walk through life trying to be something they’re not, while completely losing track of who they really are. This is especially true of those suffering from gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria, according to the American Psychiatric Association, “involves a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify. People with gender dysphoria may be very uncomfortable with the gender they were assigned, sometimes described as being uncomfortable with their body (particularly developments during puberty) or being uncomfortable with the expected roles of their assigned gender.”

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What Does This Have To Do with Substance Abuse?

By itself, gender dysphoria may not be a trigger for substance abuse, but stress-related diagnoses can be a trigger. Additionally, “minority stress” can contribute to a variety of addictive and risky behaviors.

According to medicaldaily.com, “a study published within the last few months sought to assess the relationship between ‘minority stress’ and mental health in a large, geographically diverse sample of the transgender population in the U.S. ‘Minority stress theory‘ proposes that the health disparities among sexual minorities can be explained to a large extent by stressors induced by a hostile and homophobic culture, which often results in a lifetime of harassment, maltreatment, discrimination, and victimization and may ultimately impact access to care.”

Those with gender dysphoria are likely to be searching for acceptance, understanding, compassion, normalcy, and equality. Being a “sexual minority,” those who are transgender may find these things difficult to secure. Those with gender dysphoria are likely to be tempted by substance abuse as a substitute for feelings they wish to have.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that students, regardless of sexual orientation, reported the lowest levels of depression, suicidal feelings, alcohol, and marijuana use, and unexcused absences from school when they were in a positive school climate and not experiencing homophobic teasing.

What Can Community Members, Educators, Peers, And Parents Do To Combat Minority Stress And Lessen the Chance of Substance Abuse?

The Center for American Progress found that “gay and transgender individuals may be hesitant to utilize health care services that can help them overcome substance abuse because they are aware of the likelihood of meeting health care professionals who are unaware of their specific needs or are outright hostile toward them. As a result, gay and transgender individuals may delay substance abuse treatment or choose not to disclose their sexual or gender status, which not only hinders recovery but also undermines their overall health.”

To help, USC Rossier developed “Students and Gender Identity: A Toolkit for Schools.” It is a collection of resources to support important conversations about gender identity in the classroom. “This is a campus climate issue,” said Professor Mary Andres, who teaches in the USC Rossier online master’s in school counseling program.

One way this resource can assist educators, parents and the community is by providing communication tools and clearly defining terminology regarding gender identity. The toolkit also provides helpful links to explore measures to educate and counsel students, peers and coworkers.

While there is never one clear solution to resolve every person’s needs, it is clear that something can be done in this instance. Awareness and education of minority stress surrounding transgender youth and adults may combat addictive behavior.

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Alexis Anderson

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  • Alexis Anderson is a digital PR coordinator covering K–12 education at 2U, Inc. She supports outreach for their school counseling, teaching, mental health, and occupational therapy programs. Alexis is interested in topics related to education, advocacy, and wellness.

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