Use of substances to cope during the COVID-19 pandemic among transgender and gender diverse adults

Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2023 Jan 2;49(1):129-139. doi: 10.1080/00952990.2023.2165939. Epub 2023 Feb 14.


Background: Studies have found changes in substance use during the COVID-19 pandemic in specific populations. Transgender and gender diverse (TGD) individuals have experienced greater distress compared to cisgender individuals during the pandemic; however, there is little research on substance use among TGD individuals during this sensitive time period.Objectives: The objective of this study is to examine distress from COVID-19 and coping via substance use including alcohol, cannabis, tobacco, and non-medical use of prescription drugs (NMUPD) among TGD adults.Method: An online survey assessing substance use, general psychiatric symptoms, and COVID-19 anxiety was completed by 342 TGD individuals (16.4% transfeminine, 19.6% transmasculine, 64.0% Gender Diverse) in June/July 2020. Chi-square and structural equation modeling (SEM) analyses examined the connections between distress, coping, and substance use.Results: Seventy-one percent of participants reported no changes in substance use since the start of the pandemic and 22% reported an increase in substance use. Increased substance use was associated with alcohol (p < .001), cannabis (p < .001), and combustible tobacco (p < .001) use in the prior three months. SEM showed significant direct effects between distress and substance use coping, substance use coping and recent drug use, and an indirect effect of distress on recent drug use through substance use coping (β = .31, p = .001).Conclusion: Results highlight the risk of substance use to cope with COVID-19-related stress in a large sample of a minoritized population with mental health disparities. Transmasculine and gender diverse participants were especially likely to report using substances to cope.

Keywords: COVID-19; Transgender; alcohol; cannabis; opioid; substance use; tobacco.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Gender Identity
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Transgender Persons* / psychology