Gender-affirming care in all healthcare fields is vital for transgender members of the LGBTQ+ community. This type of care is not only about physical health but emotional and mental well-being as well. Thus, gender-affirming practices in substance abuse and mental health treatment is also needed for transgender individuals. At Riviera Recovery in Los Angeles, California, we offer sober living programs and mental health housing to young adults of all genders.
What is Gender-Affirming Care?
According to the US Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Population Affairs, gender-affirming care is “a supportive form of healthcare”. Furthermore, it “consists of an array of services that may include medical, surgical, mental health, and non-medical services for transgender and nonbinary people.” Many of these services improve overall health outcomes for children and adolescents. As a result, they are more confident in seeking healthcare services as young adults.
The types of services needed for this type of care include some of the following:
- Social affirmation includes things like the use of preferred pronouns, choice of restrooms, clothing and hairstyle choices, as well as a person’s name.
- Puberty blockers can pause puberty. The use of these blockers occurs during adolescence and is reversible.
- Hormone therapy depending on the person’s gender assigned at birth and how they now identify, involves taking either estrogen or testosterone. This process begins in early adolescence and is partially reversible.
- Gender-affirming surgery can either change or enhance sexual characteristics to align with the person’s gender identity. These include secondary characteristics (breasts, Adam’s apple, facial features) or primary (reproductive organs). Surgeries usually occur during adulthood and are nonreversible.
Overall, these practices help transgender people align their physical traits and behaviors with their inward feelings of gender. In short, they feel much more like themselves. As a result, they have more positive outcomes in both physical and mental health.
Rates of Addiction Among Transgender Adults
Transgender adults have high rates of addiction compared to those whose gender identity corresponds to their sex at birth (or cisgender adults). Most studies and surveys show these rates are significantly higher. Thus, gender-affirming treatment centers can help to reduce these rates.
An article from JAMA Network shares the following statistics from 2017 comparing transgender and cisgender adults with a substance use disorder diagnosis (SUDD):
- Polysubstance SUDD (more than 1 substance) was 4 times higher among transgender adults
- Any drug SUDD was 3.6 times higher among transgender adults
- Nicotine use occurred in 16.6% of transgender adults surveyed compared to 5.4% of cisgender adults
- Cannabis use disorders were 5 times more likely in transgender adults
- Cocaine use was 4 times higher in transgender adults
- Opioid use disorders were 3 times more likely in transgender adults
- Young transgender adults aged 18 to 25 had the highest overall rates of SUDD than other age groups
The authors of this article note that the real numbers could be higher because they only studied those with a diagnosed SUD. In other words, these rates only reflect transgender adults who were in substance use treatment. Consequently, since transgender adults face more barriers to treatment than cisgender adults, the actual rates of substance abuse could be much higher.
Why is the Rate of Addiction So High for Transgender Adults?
The data shows that addiction is much higher for transgender adults than for cisgender individuals. While more research can shed light on these reasons, many reasons are already well-known.
The following are some of the reasons for these higher rates of addiction:
Limited Access to Gender Affirming Care
Transgender adults have less access to specialized treatment. Overall, rates of success in treatment are much higher when people in the LGBTQ+ community are in a specialized program. Thus, for transgender people, gender-affirming care in substance abuse treatment will yield better results. However, most gender-specific programs only specialize in cisgender men and women.
In addition, transgender people are less likely to have health insurance. Therefore, they might avoid treatment due to financial reasons.
Transgender people also generally face discrimination in the healthcare industry. Therefore, they might have a pattern of not seeking professional help for any issues. These issues are not only limited to substance abuse but also medical and mental health concerns. As a result, they are less likely to seek treatment on their own or have a referral for substance use treatment from another healthcare professional.
Targeted Marketing of Addictive Products
Higher rates of nicotine addiction tend to correspond with higher rates of other substance use disorders. In addition, using nicotine products, like smoking cigarettes, vaping, or chewing, at a young age could “prime” the person’s brain to developing other substance use disorders.
Since tobacco products tend to target marketing to the LGBTQ+ community, this contributes to higher rates of addiction. In addition, bars and clubs are some of the only safe spaces in the community for LGBTQ+ people to socialize. As a result, using substances and socializing often go hand in hand.
Higher Rates of Mental Health Disorders and Suicidal Ideations
Across the general population, poor mental health often leads to “self-medicating” with drugs and alcohol. However, mental health disorders, like addiction, are also much higher among transgender adults. Moreover, transgender adults are also more likely to have suicidal ideations than the general population. Higher rates of mental health disorders, therefore, correspond with addiction. In other words, as the rates of one go up, so does the other.
Additional reasons for higher rates of mental health issues and addiction include the following:
- Increased exposure to trauma
- Lack of family support and acceptance
- Poor mental health leads to risky behaviors, like drug abuse
- Higher rates of homelessness in transgender people
Therefore, gender-affirming care practices are needed in all areas of healthcare as well as social services and substance abuse treatment.
Gender-affirming care practices offer many benefits for transgender young adults. In addition, creating safe places for all members of the LGBTQ+ community can improve the outcomes for transgender adults.
Benefits of LGBTQ+ addiction treatment programs include:
- Inclusive spaces safe from stigma and discrimination from peers and staff
- Supportive of the LGBTQ+ lifestyle
- Social affirmation allows transgender adults to be themselves
- Staff trained to understand addiction among LGBTQ+ people
- Co-occurring mental health treatment for disorders like trauma, anxiety, and depression
- Address medical issues that are higher among LGBTQ+ people like HIV and Hepatitis C
- Specialized treatment for unique issues facing this population, like:
- Coming out
- Emotional abuse
- Sexual assault or abuse
- Negative social stigma
- Suicidal ideations
- Unstable housing
These benefits can improve outcomes for transgender people as well as others in the LGBTQ+ community. Therefore, it is vital for addiction and mental health programs to create long-term programs that include housing. In this way, transgender adults can get the treatment that they need.
Safe Spaces for Recovery Among Members of the LGBTQ+ Community
Members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially transgender young adults, face issues of homelessness more than the general population. Therefore, safe spaces for long-term recovery are needed for these individuals. At Riviera Recovery, we offer 2 types of housing programs that are inclusive for all members of the LGBTQ+ community, which include:
LGBTQ+ Sober Living Programs
Sober living programs help those who have completed inpatient rehab and need a safe place to practice sobriety. After inpatient care and detox, people in recovery are still at a high risk of relapse. This risk increases when they don’t have a safe, stable home for recovery.
Our sober living programs offer inclusive care for all. In this way, we help members of the LGBTQ+ community feel safe during the early stages of recovery. As a result, they can live with others who share similar struggles and accept one another. This fosters the kind of healing environment a person needs for recovery.
Mental Health Housing for LGBTQ+ Individuals
Similar to sober living, our mental health housing programs support those in recovery from mental health issues. Mental health treatment also requires a person to feel safe and secure in their home. However, many in the LGBTQ+ community face hostility and discrimination at home, even among family members.
Therefore, our mental health housing helps those who don’t have secure and stable housing. Our program can teach people the skills they need to live on their own as well as provide them with necessary resources. They can heal from mental health disorders without common triggers like social stigma during mental health housing programs.
Overall, members of the LGBTQ+ community face discrimination in all areas of health and wellness treatment. This includes substance abuse and mental health treatment. As a result, the rates of addiction and mental illness are much higher in LGBTQ+ people than in the general population. For transgender people, these rates are significantly high. Riviera Recovery of Los Angeles, California, offers treatment that is inclusive of all genders.
Visit our admissions page today to learn more about gender-affirming care in mental health and substance abuse treatment.