Research Shows a Link Between Loss of Hearing And Substance Abuse

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

You’re probably aware that the United States is having an opioid crisis. Overdoses are killing more than 130 individuals daily. 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 carried out by a team from the University of Michigan, there’s a connection between those under fifty who are suffering from hearing loss and abuse of alcohol or other substances.

Nearly 86,000 people participated in the study and it was found that the younger the person, the stronger the connection. Regrettably, it’s still unclear what causes that link to begin with.

Here’s what this specific research found:

  • People who developed hearing loss when they were younger than fifty were at least two times as likely to abuse opioids than their peers. Other substances, such as alcohol, were also inclined to be misused by this group.
  • People were two times as likely to develop a general substance abuse problem than their peers if they got hearing loss between the ages of 35 and 49.
  • When it comes to hearing loss, people above the age of fifty who developed hearing loss were not different from their peers when it comes to substance abuse.

Hope and Solutions

Those numbers are staggering, especially because scientists have already taken into account concerns like economics and class. So, now that we’ve recognized a connection, we have to do something about it, right? Well, that can be a problem without understanding the exact cause (remember: correlation is not causation). Researchers did have a couple of theories:

  • Medications that are ototoxic: Hearing loss is known to be caused by these medications.
  • Social solitude: It’s well established that hearing loss can lead to social isolation and cognitive decline. In these situations, 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.
  • Higher blood pressure: Of course, it’s also true, 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.
  • Lack of communication: Emergency departments are designed to respond to people, deal with them, and process them as efficiently (or, in many cases, quickly) as they can. Sometimes they are in a hurry, particularly if there’s a life-threatening emergency waiting for them. In these cases, if patients aren’t capable of communicating very well, say they can’t hear questions or directions from the staff, they might not get proper treatment. They might agree to suggestions of pain medicine without fully listening to the risks, or they might mishear dosage instructions.

Whether these occurrences increase loss of hearing, 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 recommended by the writers of the study, that communications protocols be kept current by doctors and emergency departments. It would help if doctors were on the lookout for people with hearing loss, in other words. But it would also help if we as individuals were more aware 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 such as:

  • Will I get addicted to this drug? Do I actually need it, or is there an alternative medicine available that is less dangerous?
  • Is this medication ototoxic? Are there alternate options?

Never go home from a doctors appointment with medications unless you are completely clear on their risks, what the dosage schedule is and how they influence your general health.

Additionally, if you believe you are suffering from hearing loss, don’t wait to be tested. If you ignore your hearing loss for only two years you will pay 26% more for your health care. So make an appointment now to have your hearing tested.