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 on a daily basis. There is a connection, which you might not be aware of, between drug and alcohol abuse and loss of hearing.

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

After analyzing nearly 86,000 respondents, they found this connection is stronger the younger the individual is. Regrettably, it’s still not well known what causes that connection to begin with.

Here’s what was discovered by this research:

  • In terms of hearing loss, people over the age of fifty who developed hearing loss were not different from their peers in terms of substance abuse.
  • Individuals who developed hearing loss between the ages of 35-49 were twice as likely to develop general substance abuse issues than their peers.
  • People who developed hearing loss when they were younger than fifty were at least two times as likely to abuse opioids as their peers. They were also usually more likely to misuse other substances, such as alcohol.

Solutions and Hope

Because experts have already accounted for class and economics so those figures are especially staggering. We need to do something about it, though, now that we have identified a connection. Keep in mind, correlation is not causation so without understanding the exact cause, it will be difficult to directly address the issue. Researchers did have a couple of theories:

  • Ototoxic medications: These medications are known to cause hearing loss.
  • Social isolation: It’s well established that hearing loss can lead to social isolation and cognitive decline. In situations like these, it’s common for people to self medicate, especially if the individual in question doesn’t really understand the cause–he or she may not even realizethat hearing loss is the issue.
  • Higher blood pressure: Of course, it’s also true, 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.
  • Lack of communication: Emergency departments are designed to respond to people, deal with them, and process them 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 cases, if patients aren’t able to communicate very well, say they can’t hear questions or instructions from the staff, they might not receive correct treatment. They may agree to suggestions of pain medication without completely listening to the concerns, or they may mishear dosage instructions.

Whether these incidents increase loss of hearing, or that they are more likely to occur to those with hearing loss, the damaging consequences to your health are the same.

Preventing Hearing Loss and Substance Abuse

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

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

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

If you are uncertain how a medication will affect your overall health, what the risk are and how they should be used, you shouldn’t leave the office with them.

In addition, if you believe you have hearing loss, don’t wait to be checked. Ignoring your hearing loss for just two years can pay 26% more for your health care. So schedule an appointment now to have a hearing test.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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