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The Relationship Between Gender Dysphoria and Substance Abuse

Gender dysphoria and substance abuse have a close relationship, two and a half times greater than other disorders. This percentage includes cocaine, meth, and misuse of prescription medications, including opioids. SAMHSA also indicates teens with gender dysphoria are three times more likely to use inhalants than others their age. Minority stress, bullying, discrimination, and family rejection because of their gender dysphoria, can cause a need for a coping mechanism. Drugs or alcohol are often the choices. 

With September being National Suicide Awareness Month, it is essential to realize the community effect of gender dysphoria and substance abuse. Transgender adults are nearly nine times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population, and lesbian, gay, or bisexual youth are almost four times greater than straight youth. Gender dysphoric youth are also at a greater risk of suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or reach out via chat to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

What is Gender Dysphoria?

Understanding the facts associated with gender dysphoria can be easier by referencing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. A complete understanding assists in seeing the relationship between gender dysphoria and substance abuse.

Symptoms of gender dysphoria must also include clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. Gender dysphoria in adolescents and adults is a marked incongruence between one’s expressed gender and their assigned gender, lasting at least six months, as manifested by at least two of the following:

  • A strong desire to be rid of one’s primary and or secondary sex characteristics because of a marked incongruence with one’s experienced/expressed gender (or in young adolescents, a desire to prevent the development of the anticipated secondary sex characteristics)
  • A desire for the primary and or secondary sex characteristics of the other gender
  • Wanting to be of the other gender (or some alternative gender different from one’s assigned gender)
  • A strong desire to be treated as the other gender (or some alternative gender different from one’s assigned gender)
  • The firm conviction that one has feelings and reactions more typical of the other gender (or some alternative gender different from one’s assigned gender)

Connecting Gender Dysphoria and Substance Abuse

Gender dysphoria and substance abuse often co-occur with one or more mental illnesses. Depressive disorder, specific phobia, and adjustment disorders are the most common disorders experienced. With the experience of a co-morbid mental illness, more symptoms are experienced and cause the need for more relief. Suicidal feelings are often the result of a lack of acceptance, understanding, and equality. Substance abuse can result from fighting two forms of stigma with no positive or healthy coping mechanisms. 

Effects of Substance Abuse on Gender Dysphoria Symptoms

Gender dysphoria disorder may co-occur with depression before substance abuse occurs. However, substance abuse can increase anxiety and depression already present. Social anxiety, emotions and feelings unable to process, and peer pressures can lead to a severe substance abuse disorder. Those dealing with both become overwhelmed and lose their sense of self. With poor coping skills these overwhelmed individuals reach out for relief any way they can. 

  • Alcohol. Generally those with gender dysphoria and depression will reach out to alcohol for a quick relief from intense emotional feelings and stress. Alcohol can be the link between gender dysphoria and substance abuse when self-medication involves reaching out for another drug. Alcohol can cloud thinking and be the source of dangerous choices. 
  • Marijuana. Many believe that marijuana is an ideal way to self-soothe and calm the mind. While marijuana seems to help, it’s a false sense of security. The effects of marijuana may give them peace, but it’s temporary and when the high is over with, symptoms quickly return. This type of usage enforces addiction habits. 
  • Stimulants. Experiencing depression, gender dysphoria, and substance abuse might have resulted in an attempt to elevate mood and create energy. Exhaustion from depression, constant anxiety or thoughts concerning gender dysphoria may cause the need for a lift. Amphetamines are popular for this situational relief response. While producing the desired lift and energy, stimulants can lead to paranoia which is extremely hard on those with gender dysphoria. 

Find Treatment for Gender Dysphoria and Addiction Treatment

Treatment must begin with detox. A complete treatment plan for substance abuse is in order to rid the body of the substance and understand the reasoning behind the addiction. Moving forward with individual therapy and group therapy to learn new coping mechanisms and how to identify and process emotions and feelings. This can often include a stay at a sober living home. Also, specialized therapy for gender dysphoria disorder can begin after the substance abuse and mental health disorders are under control. 

Gender Dysphoria and Substance Abuse in California

September is National Recovery Month as well as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. If you are located in California and are facing gender dysphoria and substance abuse, contact us at Riviera Recovery. We have experience in treating addiction and and mental disorders that may be co-occuring. Our professional treatment coordinators can do an assessment, set up a detox or provide in depth information concerning treatment options! Contact us today! We are understanding of your situation and want to put your anxiety at ease.

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