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

The United States is in the midst of an opioid crisis as you’re likely aware. Overdoses are killing over 130 people every day. There is a link, which you may 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 from the University of Michigan, there’s a connection between alcohol and drug abuse and those under fifty who have loss of hearing.

After evaluating roughly 86,000 respondents, they found this connection is stronger the younger the person is. Regrettably, it’s still unclear what causes that link in the first place.

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.
  • People were at least two times as likely to misuse opioids than their peers if they developed hearing loss when they were under the age of fifty. They were also usually more likely to abuse other substances, like alcohol.
  • 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.

Solutions and Hope

Those figures are staggering, particularly because researchers have already taken into account issues such as 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 hard to directly address the issue. Researchers had a couple of theories:

  • Lack of communication: Processing as quickly and efficiently as possible is what emergency departments are designed to do. And if there is a life threatening emergency they can be in even more of a hurry than usual. In situations like this, a patient may not get proper treatment because they can’t hear questions and directions properly. They may not hear dosage information or other medication guidelines.
  • Medications that are ototoxic: Hearing loss is known to be caused by these medications.
  • Social isolation: 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.
  • Higher blood pressure: It’s also true, of course, that alcohol raises your blood pressure, sometimes to levels that are unhealthy. And both high blood pressure and some pain killers have been shown to harm your hearing.

Whether loss of hearing is made worse by these situations, or that they are more likely to happen to those with loss of hearing, the negative repercussions are the same to your health.

Preventing Hearing Loss and Substance Abuse

The authors of the research suggest that doctors and emergency responders work extra hard to ensure that their communication protocols are current and being followed. It would help if doctors were on the lookout for individuals with loss of hearing, in other words. We individuals don’t seek help when we should and that would also be extremely helpful.

The following question need to be asked of your doctor:

  • Will I get addicted to this drug? Is there an alternative medication that is safer for my hearing, or do I truly need this one.
  • Is this medication ototoxic? What are the alternatives?

Never go home from a doctors appointment with medicines unless you are crystal clear on their risks, what the dosage schedule is and how they affect your overall health.

Additionally, don’t wait to get tested if think that you are already suffering from hearing loss. If you ignore your hearing loss for only two years you will increase your health care expenses by 26%. So schedule an appointment now to have a hearing test.

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