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

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 link between alcohol and drug abuse and people under fifty who suffer from hearing loss.

Roughly 86,000 people participated in the study and it was found 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 research:

  • When it comes to hearing loss, people above the age of fifty who developed hearing loss didn’t differ from their peers in terms of substance abuse.
  • People who developed hearing loss between the ages of 35-49 were two times as likely to develop general substance abuse issues than their peers.
  • 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, such as alcohol, were also more likely to be misused by this group.

Solutions and Hope

Those figures are staggering, especially because researchers have already accounted for issues such as economics and class. We have 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 deal with the problem. A couple of theories have been put forward by scientists:

  • Higher blood pressure: Of course, it’s also true, that alcohol raises your blood pressure, sometimes to unhealthy levels. And both high blood pressure and some pain killers have been shown to harm your hearing.
  • 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.
  • Ototoxic medications: These medications are known to cause hearing loss.
  • Lack of communication: Emergency departments are designed to respond to people, treat them, and process them as efficiently (or, in many cases, quickly) as possible. Sometimes they are in a rush, especially if there’s a life-threatening emergency waiting for them. In cases like this, a patient may not get correct treatment because they can’t hear questions and instructions properly. They may agree to suggestions of pain medicine without fully listening to the concerns, or they may mishear dosage directions.

Whether loss of hearing is made worse by these incidents, or those with hearing loss are more likely to have them, the damaging repercussions 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 current by doctors and emergency departments. In other words, it would help if doctors were on the lookout for the signs of hearing loss in younger people. But it would also help if we as individuals were more mindful of some of the signs of hearing loss, too, and sought out help when we need it.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your doctors such as:

  • Will I get addicted to this medicine? Do I really need it, or is there an alternative medicine available that is less dangerous?
  • Is this medication ototoxic? What are the alternate options?

If you are unsure of how a medicine 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, don’t wait to be 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 costs by 26%. Schedule a hearing examination today.