McDonald Hearing Services - Grand Rapids, MI

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

The United States is facing an opioid crisis as you’re probably aware. Overdoses are killing more than 130 people on a daily basis. There is a link, which you may not have heard about, between drug and alcohol abuse and loss of hearing.

According to new research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and carried out 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.

Around 86,000 individuals took part in the study and it was found that the younger the person, the stronger the connection. What causes the link to begin with, unfortunately, is still not clear.

Here’s what this particular research found:

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

Hope and Solutions

Those figures are staggering, especially because scientists have already taken into account issues like class and economics. So, now that we’ve identified a connection, we need to do something about it, right? Keep in mind, causation is not correlation so without understanding the exact cause, it will be hard to directly deal with the problem. A couple of theories have been put forward by scientists:

  • Ototoxic medications: 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, self-medication can be relatively common, especially if the individual in question doesn’t really understand the cause–he or she may not even realizethat hearing loss is the issue.
  • Lack of communication: Emergency medical departments are designed to respond to people, deal with them, and get them out as efficiently (or, in many cases, quickly) as possible. And if there is a life threatening emergency they can be in even more of a rush than normal. In cases like this, a patient might not get correct treatment because they can’t hear questions and instructions properly. They may agree to recommendations of pain medication without completely understanding the concerns, or they may mishear dosage instructions.
  • 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.

Whether these situations increase loss of hearing, 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

It’s suggested by the authors of the study, that communications protocols be kept up to date by doctors and emergency responders. Put another way, it would help if doctors were on the lookout for the signs of hearing loss in younger individuals. We individuals don’t seek help when we need to and that would also be extremely helpful.

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

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

If you are unsure of how a medication will affect your general health, what the dangers are and how they should be taken, you shouldn’t take then home.

In addition, don’t wait to be tested if think that you might already be suffering from hearing loss. If you ignore your hearing loss for only two years you will pay 26% more for your health care. So make an appointment now to have your hearing tested.