Transgender and Addiction

People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered have benefitted from unparalleled social and legal progress in a remarkably short time span – TIME magazine called 2014 “The Transgender Tipping Point” – but people on the sexual orientation and gender identity spectrum still face many challenges.

For transgendered individuals, rates and risk factors of addiction are considerably higher than those of their LGBT and straight peers, shedding light on the problems that still confront them.

Minority Stress

There are as many as 25 million transgender people across the world, but even in high-income countries that have recognized transgender rights and protections like the United States (where there are about 1.5 million transgender people), these individuals are “routinely denied” in areas of marriage, employment, housing, and healthcare. As a result, the transgender population sees rates of depression and mental health disorders that are much higher than the general population. Indeed, the National Alliance on Mental Illness suggests that trans people are much more prone to depression and anxiety than the general population, primarily due to minority stress.

Minority stress is the theory that health disparities among minorities (whether ethnic, cultural, or, in this case, sexual) are usually due to the stressors induced by a larger, more dominant culture, which may be at odds with the values of the minority. Immigrants, for example, are often subject to minority stress because their customs and languages tend to clash with the customs and language of their new home country; homesickness could be a symptom of minority stress. For transgender people living in a majority heterosexual culture, minority stress takes the form of discrimination, victimization, harassment, and maltreatment.

The American Journal of Public Health surveyed 1,093 male-to-female and female-to-male transgender persons, 44.1 percent of whom reported clinical depression as a result of their stigma, and 33.2 percent who reported anxiety caused by their stigma. The researchers in the journal were confident that trans people “clearly fit the minority stress model.”