A new survey of college freshmen found that those who identified as transgender were at greater risk of experiencing negative consequences from drinking, including memory blackouts, academic problems, and conflicts such as arguments or physical fights.
The findings are published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
Of the more than 422,000 college freshmen who participated in the survey, 989 students identified as transgender. These students were more likely than their cisgender peers to cite stress reduction, relationship troubles, or the sedating effects of alcohol as motivation for drinking.
The survey suggests that transgender students may be particularly vulnerable to alcohol abuse, which can negatively affect their academic standing and their physical health, said Scott Swartzwelder, Ph.D., senior author of the analysis and professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Duke University School of Medicine.
“For people who work with this age group, it’s important to understand that these students are drinking at levels that are quite dangerous,” Swartzwelder said. “A blackout is a serious neurological event that occurs when you drink enough to impair the parts of your brain that encode new memory. The last thing you want to do as a college student is disrupt your memory.”
Students took the survey in 2015 through the alcohol abuse prevention program called AlcoholEdu for College, which includes a web-based questionnaire before beginning the course. The data did not represent a random sample, but included data from 370 US colleges and universities that chose to offer the course to incoming students.
More than 64 percent of the respondents reported having at least one alcoholic drink within the previous year. Students who reported drinking in the previous two weeks were asked to complete a more detailed description of those activities.
The survey found that more than a third (36 percent) of transgender students said they had consumed so much they forgot where they were or what they did at least once in the previous two weeks as compared to 25 percent of cisgender students.
Additional details from the analysis include the following:
- 26 percent of transgender students said they had passed out from alcohol use during the previous two weeks, compared to 13 percent of cisgender students
- 21 percent of transgender students said they drove after consuming five or more drinks, compared to four percent of cisgender students
- 19 percent of transgender students said they got in trouble with authorities as a result of drinking, compared to four percent of cisgender students
- 21 percent of transgender students said they deliberately vomited in order to continue drinking, compared to five percent of cisgender students
- 19 percent of transgender students said they had been taken advantage of sexually due to drinking during the previous two weeks, compared to eight percent of cisgender students
Among transgender students, those transitioning from a male to female reported the highest incidence of negative consequences and high-risk behaviors from using alcohol.
Forty-six percent of male-to-female transgender students reported at least one memory blackout in the two weeks prior to the survey, compared to 36 percent of transgender students overall. This subgroup also reported the highest incidences of missing classes, becoming argumentative, drinking and driving or riding with someone who had been drinking, and getting into trouble with authorities.
“The results tell us we have a lot more to learn about transgender people and about the specific challenges they face,” Swartzwelder said.
“The outcomes of the study also tell us that college students who are transgender represent a vulnerable population with respect to alcohol abuse and its negative consequences. That suggests college administrators and clinicians who interact with these students should be prepared to provide them with better and more effective coping strategies.”
Next the researchers plan to investigate the motivations and consequences of above-average alcohol use of transgender students.
“Why do these students drink more, and what’s making them more vulnerable to these negative consequences of drinking?” Swartzwelder said. “These are very important social questions we hope to answer.”
Source: Duke University Medical Center