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. More than 130 people are dying each day from an overdose. But what you might not be aware of is that there is a troubling link between hearing loss and drug and alcohol abuse.

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 link between those under the age of fifty who are suffering from hearing loss and abuse of alcohol or other substances.

After analyzing around 86,000 participants, they found this connection is stronger the younger the person is. Sadly, it’s still unclear what causes that connection to begin with.

Here’s what was discovered by this study:

  • People who developed hearing loss when they were the ages of 35-49 were twice as likely to develop general substance abuse issues than their peers.
  • People were at least two times as likely to abuse opioids than their peers if they developed hearing loss when they were under the age of fifty. Other things, such as alcohol, were also more likely to be abused by this group.
  • People who developed hearing loss over the age of fifty were not different from their peers when it comes to substance abuse rates.

Hope and Solutions

Those numbers are staggering, particularly because experts have already taken into account issues like class and economics. We have to do something about it, though, now that we have recognized a relationship. Remember, correlation is not causation so without knowing the exact cause, it will be difficult to directly deal with the issue. A couple of theories have been put forward by scientists:

  • 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 blood pressure is raised by alcohol, sometimes to levels that are unhealthy. And both some pain killers and also high blood pressure have been shown to harm your hearing.
  • Ototoxic medications: Hearing loss is known to be caused by these medications.
  • Lack of communication: Processing as quickly and efficiently as possible is what emergency departments are meant to do. And if there is a life threatening emergency they can be in even more of a rush than normal. In situations such as this, a patient might not get proper treatment because they can’t hear questions and instructions very well. They might agree to suggestions of pain medicine without completely understanding the risks, or they may mishear dosage directions.

Whether loss of hearing is increased by these incidents, or those with loss of hearing are more likely to have them, the damaging consequences are the same to your health.

Preventing Hearing Loss and Substance Abuse

The authors of the study suggest that doctors and emergency responders work extra hard to ensure that their communication methods are up to date and being implemented. It would be helpful 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 signs of hearing loss, too, and sought help when we need it.

The following question should be asked of your doctor:

  • Is this drug addictive? Is there a different medication that is less dangerous for my hearing, or do I truly need this one.
  • Is this drug ototoxic? What are the alternate options?

Never go home from a doctors appointment with medications unless you are crystal clear on their dangers, how they should be taken and how they influence your overall health.

Additionally, if you suspect you have hearing loss, don’t wait to get tested. Neglecting your hearing loss for only two years can pay 26% more for your health care. Schedule a hearing exam right away.