Recovery From a Transgender Perspective

Rita Milios
Calendar icon Last Updated: 04/15/2024
rehab in transgender community
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It’s not surprising that the transgender community disproportionately experiences anxiety, depression, and even chemical dependency. Trans individuals report feelings of confusion and low self-esteem, while also dealing with discrimination, misunderstanding, harassment, and exclusion. In order to combat the addiction epidemic and highlight Pride Month, we shine a light on recovery in the transgender community.

The Transgender Community and Substance Abuse

Trans individuals face more than their fair share of challenges in life, and many are left to self-medicate. What might surprise you is how many of them actually battle substance abuse on a daily basis – an estimated 20-30 percent of the entire community.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), roughly 16 percent of the whole LGBTQ community meets the criteria for needing substance abuse treatment, compared to just eight percent of the general U.S. population.

Although sexual and gender minorities are more likely than the majority to actually seek help for their problem, substance abuse treatment for LGBTQ folks, specifically the transgender community, isn’t up to the task of meeting their needs.

Is There a Disconnect Among the Trans Community?

“Addressing health-related issues that affect the LGBTQ community is not really taught in medical school or in residencies. Sometimes all you get are two hours of training and that’s it,” says Eric Yarbrough M.D., Director of Psychiatry at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in New York City.

Even though doctors will admit they lack the training and understanding, they’re just a small piece of the drug-treatment pie. Patients interact daily with a large staff, from doctors to cooks to behavioral-health techs, and often have to adhere to rules that weren’t designed with them in mind.

Most of the time, these rules include living with people of your gender, which deters a large number of trans people from going the inpatient route. “Though a rehab employee said they would place me with residents of my gender identity, I knew I would feel just as unsafe living pre-T with cis men, as I would feel dysphoric, dishonest, and resentful living with women”, Milo Scanlon says of his own experience.

Recovery Support in the Community

Given the gift of desperation, trans people seeking recovery are often tough. They don’t want to give up, despite combatting a feeling of hopelessness. So, they find solace where they can.

Support groups give everyone a sense of freedom. Attendance isn’t forced, you sleep where you feel safe, and you can find your tribe. LGBTQ community centers and recovery clubhouses around the country offer these groups free of charge.

They’re not for everyone, but even 12-step fellowships have specific meetings for specific groups, like meetings for lesbians, older gay men, trans men, women with alcohol problems, etc.

The important thing to remember, although cliché, is that it gets better. Finding your sober identity while facing your substance demons may feel like an impossible task, but many who’ve come before you have been there, done that…and each and every one of them want to see you shine in recovery, too.

Rita Milios
Rita Milios, LCSW, SAP
Psychotherapist, Expert Author
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Rita Milios, The Mind Mentor, is a recently retired psychotherapist, freelance writer, and author (recovery, mental health, spiritual growth), seminar leader, and podcaster from Kissimmee FL. She provided counseling in rehab facilities in Ohio and Florida, as well as in her private practice. Rita also served as a DOT Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) consultant.