Dealing With Addiction in the Transgender Community

U.A. Nigro

My closest encounter with addiction was being married to an alcoholic and an occasional substance user for thirteen years. I cannot speak about what it is like to live addicted to a substance or alcohol, thank my lucky stars, I can only tell you what it is like on the outside looking in. It is a horrific and terrifying experience. Like being glued into a chair with your arms and legs bound to witness someone you care deeply about slowly commit suicide. You wake up everyday in panic mode, terrified. Unsure if the day will be full of sadness and apologies or anger, rage, and fear. I was living in a hypersensitive environment; all while trying to maintain what might look like a normal existence. You lose all senses of reality and begin pleading with the addict, as if someone has a gun to your head, you just want them to admit that there is a problem and go get help.

For my ex, everything he did whether it was subconscious or not, was dangerous. As if it would be easier for me to bury him after an accident instead of having to tell people that his addiction killed him. If you ask my children, they will tell you that the word "promise" is not a part of my vocabulary. However, I promised him whatever he wanted me to, if he would just go and see an alcohol abuse counselor, but he refused. I did not understand it, but I could see how miserable he truly was. No matter what I said, or what I did, I could not fix him. Eventually I sought out counseling. I made up my mind that this violent environment was no place to raise my children, and I got up the courage to leave. I buried him two and a half years later due to a car accident.

Becoming an ally in the transgender community brought addiction back into my life. Listening to other partners on my online support groups talk about their experiences of having an addicted partner brought all of those old emotions back. I had no idea how prevalent addiction was in the transgender and gender non-conforming community. Then, it arrived at my front door as my wife and I run a weekly support group in our area for transgender folks, their partners, and families. Once again I am left feeling helpless against this miserable disease. I am feeling as if I am just an observer to a few more slow and painful roads to suicide.


I can only imagine what it must be like to live with your true identity trapped inside your head. Having no resources to help you to navigate the confusion that dysphoria plants inside your brain. To feel so helpless that escaping into drugs and alcohol is the only way to cope. There is such a need for therapists who specialize in gender in this country. Perhaps if there were proper resources to help these folks to work through their gender issues, or more accurately the issues that society creates for them about gender, addiction would not be an issue. Or if once and for all we did away with the old stereotypical gender roles so every person was free to express their gender in whatever way they wanted. So that every little person being raised right now knows that acceptance of their gender identity and expression was a certainty, and not a crapshoot.

I am sitting here and writing this only a week after having been involved in a friend's intervention. My hope is that he will commit to the program and get the help he so desperately needs. You cannot outrun addiction. It is faster and stronger than you alone. It is only with help and support from the right resources that you stand a chance to beat it. In my experience you need to be brutally honest and committed to the work to be successful. I hope my friend will be triumphant and come back home a healthy person. It amazes me that in the year 2017, the experts are still debating addiction. Some calling it a disease while others call it a true mental illness or mental disorder. Whatever you want to call it, it is an epidemic and desperately needs to be addressed. With the holidays upon us addiction can be heightened. So if you or someone you know needs help please reach out.

Here are some helpful resources for anyone who is in crisis:

  1. 1-800-999-9999 National Directory of Drug Hotlines, Narcotics Hotlines, and Crisis Intervention Centers

  2. 1-800-662-HELP Drug and Alcohol Hotline for Rehab/Treatment Referral Service

  3. Alcoholics Anonymous 24 hour helplines by zip code

  4. Narcotics Anonymous hotlines and helplines

  5. 1-800-356-9996 Al-Anon & Alateen crisis line

  6. 1-800-COCAINE National Cocaine Hotline, 24-hour counseling and referral

  7. 1-800-9-HEROIN National Heroin Hotline

  8. 1-888-MARIJUA National Marijuana Hotline

  9. 1-800-273-TALK National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

  10. 1-800-WORKPLACE Drug-Free Workplace Help

  11. Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

I am not downplaying your experiences with your ex or those with your transgender support group, they are what they are.

“I had no idea how prevalent addiction was in the transgender and gender non-conforming community.“

I take great exception to the implication that transgender and addiction go hand and hand.

Of the four trans men and women I know fairly well, NONE of them are addicted or are dependent on drugs.

My story, I was OVERLY medicated on prescribed psych drugs prior to transition, I was told by multiple doctors that I need the medications because it was treating my underlying condition, that it was helping me, I was not and was never addicted to those drugs, in hindsight I was clearly dependent, (being familiar with addiction, I assume you are aware of the difference between “dependency and addition”, that is NOT a distinction without a difference, although they USSALLY run hand and hand), I was completely unaware of what those drugs were doing at the time I only knew it was bad.

There are three transgender people that I know who I suspect are in the same/similar situation that I was prior to transition, are the prescription drugs helping them or harming them, I am not in a position to say, I do however have my suspicions, they are mixed, and it is the chicken or the egg, psych drugs CAN NOT safely be stopped cold turkey, that can be harmful to self, to others, or fatal when stopped cold turkey depending on the drug(s).

Especially for the older generation I do not think my story is uncommon, psych drugs WAS the preferred medical treatment for gender dysphoria, it was then, as it is now, a failed treatment model, for gender dysphoria, the younger generation I believe is less likely to face what I went through because of the increased awareness and the evidence based science of transition as well of the evidence based failures of the other treatment models.

Are transgender and gender non-conforming people more prone to self-medicate than other people/communities because of stress cause by discrimination, probably so. But there is NO biological connection between trans and addiction.

Self-medication is hardly unique to the transgender community.
The over prescription of any med, is hardly unique to the transgender community.

When Self-medication or any drug becomes, habitual, self-destructive, causing physical harm, interfering with relationships, daily activities, work, ECT, clearly the individual has a problem and needs help as soon as possible.

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