Research Reveals a Link Between Hearing Loss And Substance Abuse

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

The US. is facing an opioid crisis as you’re probably aware. Overdoses are killing more than 130 people each day. There is a connection, which you may not have heard about, between drug and alcohol abuse and hearing loss.

According to new research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and conducted by a group at the University of Michigan, there’s a link between those under fifty who suffer from hearing loss and abuse of alcohol or other substances.

After evaluating approximately 86,000 respondents, they found this connection is stronger the younger the individual is. What causes the link to begin with, regrettably, is still not clear.

Here’s what was found by this study:

  • In terms of hearing loss, people above the age of fifty who developed hearing loss were not different from their peers in terms of substance abuse.
  • People who developed hearing loss under the age of fifty were at least two times as likely to abuse opioids as their peers. Other things, such as alcohol, were also more likely to be misused by this group.
  • People who developed hearing loss when they were the ages of 35 and 49 were two times as likely to develop general substance abuse issues than their peers.

Solutions and Hope

Those figures are staggering, especially because researchers have already accounted for issues such as class and economics. So, now that we’ve recognized a relationship, we need to do something about it, right? Well, that can be difficult without understanding the exact cause (remember: causation is not correlation). Researchers did have a couple of theories:

  • Social solitude: Cognitive decline and social isolation are well known to be associated with hearing loss. In these situations, it’s common for people to self medicate, 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 get people in, treat them, and get them out as efficiently (or, in some cases, quickly) as they can. And if there is a life threatening emergency they can be in even more of a rush than normal. In cases like this, a patient might not get proper treatment because they can’t hear questions and instructions properly. They may agree to recommendations of pain medication without fully listening to the concerns, or they might mishear dosage directions.
  • Ototoxic medications: Hearing loss is known to be caused by these medications.
  • Higher blood pressure: It’s also true, of course, That blood pressure is raised by alcohol, sometimes to unhealthy levels. And both some pain killers and also high blood pressure have been shown to harm your hearing.

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

Preventing Hearing Loss and Substance Abuse

It’s suggested by the authors of the study, that communications protocols be kept up to date by doctors and emergency departments. In other words, it would help if doctors were on the lookout for the indications of hearing loss in younger individuals. But it would also help if we as individuals were more mindful of some of the symptoms of hearing loss, too, and sought help when we need it.

Don’t be scared to ask questions of your doctors like:

  • Will I become addicted to this drug? Do I really need it, or is there a different medicine available that is less dangerous?
  • Will I have an ototoxic response to this medication? What are the alternatives?

If you are uncertain how a medicine will affect your general health, what the dangers are and how they should be used, you shouldn’t take then home.

Additionally, don’t wait to be tested if think that you might already be suffering from hearing loss. Ignoring your hearing loss for just two years can increase your health care expenses by 26%. So schedule an appointment now to have your hearing tested.

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