Research Shows a Connection Between Hearing Loss And Substance Abuse

Young man with hearing loss drinking more alcohol than he should.

More than likely you are aware that the United States is having an opioid crisis. More than 130 people are dying each day from an overdose. But what you might not have heard yet is that there is a disturbing link between hearing loss and drug and alcohol abuse.

According to new research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and carried out by a team at the University of Michigan, there’s a link between alcohol and drug abuse and people under fifty who suffer from hearing loss.

After evaluating around 86,000 respondents, they found this connection is stronger the younger the person is. What causes the connection to begin with, regrettably, is still not well understood.

Here’s what was discovered by this study:

  • People who developed hearing loss under the age of fifty were at least twice as likely to abuse opioids than their peers. They were also usually more likely to misuse other things, such as alcohol.
  • People who developed hearing loss over the age of fifty were not different from their peers when it comes to substance abuse rates.
  • People were twice as likely to develop a general substance abuse issue than their peers if they got hearing loss between the ages of 35 and 49.

Hope and Solutions

Those figures are shocking, especially because researchers have already taken into account issues such as economics and class. We need to do something about it, though, now that we have recognized a connection. Remember, causation is not correlation so without understanding the exact cause, it will be hard to directly address the issue. Researchers had a couple of theories:

  • Medications that are ototoxic: These medications are known to cause hearing loss.
  • Higher blood pressure: It’s also true, of course, that alcohol raises your blood pressure, sometimes to unhealthy levels. And both some pain killers and also high blood pressure have been shown to harm your hearing.
  • Social solitude: It’s well established that hearing loss can lead to social isolation and cognitive decline. In situations like these, self-medication can be relatively common, and if the person doesn’t understand that hearing loss is an issue or what the cause is, this is especially true.
  • Lack of communication: Emergency departments are designed to respond to people, treat them, and get them out as efficiently (or, in some cases, quickly) as they can. Sometimes they are in a rush, especially if there’s a life-threatening emergency waiting for them. In these situations, if patients aren’t capable of communicating very well, say they aren’t able to hear questions or instructions from the staff, they might not receive correct treatment. They may agree to recommendations of pain medicine without completely listening to the risks, or they might mishear dosage instructions.

Whether loss of hearing is increased by these situations, or those with hearing loss are more likely to have them, the negative repercussions to your health are the same.

Preventing Hearing Loss and Substance Abuse

It’s suggested by the authors of the study, that communications standards be kept current by doctors and emergency responders. Put another way, it would help if doctors were on the lookout for the signs of hearing loss in younger individuals. We individuals don’t get help when we need to and that would also be extremely helpful.

Don’t be nervous to ask questions of your doctors such as:

  • Will I become addicted to this drug? Do I actually need it, or is there an alternative medication available that is less dangerous?
  • Will I have an ototoxic reaction to this drug? What are the alternatives?

If you are unsure of how a medication will affect your general health, what the risk are and how they should be taken, you should not take then home.

Also, don’t wait to be tested if suspect that you might already be suffering from hearing loss. Neglecting your hearing loss for just two years can pay 26% more for your health care. So make an appointment now to have your hearing tested.

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