Supportive family and friends make a key difference in reducing drug use among transgender and non-binary youth, according to a new study.
The study found that bullying, assault and discrimination are huge drivers of tobacco, cannabis and alcohol use among trans and non-binary youth but that usage decreases when youth are supported by friends and family.
Led by the Stigma and Resilience Among Vulnerable Youth Centre at UBC’s school of nursing, the study drew from a 2014 Canada-wide survey of 323 transgender and non-binary youth aged 14 to 18.
It found high rates of tobacco, alcohol and cannabis use were all linked to what lead researcher Elizabeth Saewyc called a “profound” amount of violence and discrimination targeting transgender and non-binary youth.
“When young people experienced high levels of violence and didn’t have a supportive family, they had a much greater probability of using substances.” said Saewyc, who has studied health among queer youth for over 20 years.
While substance use among most Canadian youth has fallen in recent years, nearly a quarter of survey respondents reported using cannabis in the past month, with just slightly fewer reporting cigarette smoking. Over 19 per cent had engaged in binge drinking.
The study did not measure the use of other substances.
The survey, the first of its kind in Canada, sheds light on the high prevalence of bullying, violence and discrimination trans and non-binary children face.
Out of a list of 29 forms of violence that included sexual assault, bullying and cyberbullying, the average respondent had experienced 11 of them.
“The more different kinds of violence they experience, the higher the odds they will fall into substance use,” said Saewyc.
The survey’s limitations include the need for a larger sample. But its key finding is that supportive families, friends and schools dramatically reduced rates of substance use, even for victims of violence and bullying.
For example, 61 per cent of respondents who felt they had no support from family or friends had smoked cigarettes in the past month. For youth who felt they had both, the usage rate dropped to 20 per cent.
Saewyc says it’s a clear message for parents of transgender and non-binary kids and a sign something has to be done about the “unacceptably high rates of violence against trans youth in Canada.“
“You need to accept and love your trans and non-binary kids and be that champion for them when society is maybe rejecting them,” she said.