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

You most likely are aware that the US . is in the midst of an opioid crisis. Overdoses are killing over 130 individuals every 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 carried out by a group from the University of Michigan, there’s a connection between alcohol and drug abuse and those under fifty who have hearing loss.

Nearly 86,000 people participated in the study and it was discovered that the younger the person, the stronger the connection. What causes the connection to begin with, unfortunately, is still not clear.

Here’s what was found by this study:

  • People were two times as likely to develop a general substance abuse issue than their peers if they got hearing loss when they were between the ages of 35 and 49.
  • People who developed loss of hearing over fifty did not differ from their peers in terms of substance abuse rates.
  • People were at least twice as likely to abuse opioids than their peers if they developed hearing loss when they were under the age of fifty. Other substances, like alcohol, were also more likely to be abused by this group.

Solutions and Hope

Those numbers are staggering, especially because researchers have already accounted for concerns like economics and class. We have to do something about it, though, now that we have recognized a relationship. Keep in mind, correlation is not causation so without understanding the exact cause, it will be difficult to directly address the problem. A couple of theories have been put forward by researchers:

  • Medications that are ototoxic: These medications are known to cause hearing loss.
  • Social isolation: Cognitive decline and social isolation are well known to be associated with hearing loss. In situations like these, 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: Processing as quickly and efficiently as possible is what emergency departments are designed to do. Sometimes they are in a hurry, particularly if there’s a life-threatening emergency waiting for them. In these cases, if patients aren’t able to communicate well, say they can’t hear questions or directions from the staff, they may not get correct treatment. They may agree to recommendations of pain medicine without completely understanding the concerns, or they might mishear dosage instructions.
  • 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.

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

Preventing Hearing Loss and Substance Abuse

The authors of the research recommend that doctors and emergency departments work extra hard to make sure that their communication standards are up to date and being implemented. It would help if doctors were on the lookout for people with loss of hearing, 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.

The following question should be asked of your doctor:

  • Will I get addicted to this medicine? Is there an alternative medicine that is safer for my hearing, or do I truly need this one.
  • Is this medication ototoxic? Are there alternate options?

If you are uncertain how a medicine will impact your general health, what the risk are and how they should be taken, you shouldn’t leave the office with them.

Additionally, don’t wait to get tested if suspect that you might already be suffering from loss of hearing. If you ignore your hearing loss for only two years you will increase your health care expenses by 26%. So make 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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