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

You’re probably aware that the United States is facing an opioid crisis. Overdoses are killing over 130 people every day. But what you may not have heard yet is that there is a troubling connection between loss of hearing and drug and alcohol abuse.

According to new research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and conducted by a group from the University of Michigan, there’s a link between those under the age of fifty who suffer from loss of hearing and abuse of alcohol or other substances.

After evaluating roughly 86,000 respondents, they found this link is stronger the younger the person is. What causes the connection to begin with, unfortunately, is still not clear.

Here’s what this particular research found:

  • People who developed hearing loss under the age of fifty were at least two times as likely to misuse opioids than their peers. Other substances, such as alcohol, were also more likely to be abused by this group.
  • People who developed loss of hearing over the age of fifty did not differ from their peers in terms of substance abuse rates.
  • 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.

Hope and Solutions

Those figures are shocking, particularly because experts have already taken into account issues like economics and class. We need to do something about it, though, now that we have recognized a connection. Keep in mind, correlation is not causation so without knowing the exact cause, it will be difficult to directly address the issue. Researchers did have a couple of theories:

  • Ototoxic medications: Hearing loss is known to be caused by these medications.
  • Social solitude: It’s well established that hearing loss can lead to social isolation and cognitive decline. 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: Of course, it’s also true, That blood pressure is raised by alcohol, sometimes to unhealthy levels. And both high blood pressure and some pain killers have been shown to harm your hearing.
  • 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 rush than normal. In these cases, if patients aren’t capable of communicating well, say they can’t hear questions or instructions from the staff, they may not get proper treatment. They may agree to recommendations of pain medicine without completely understanding the risks, or they might mishear dosage directions.

Whether these occurrences increase hearing loss, 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

It’s recommended by the authors of the study, that communications protocols be kept current by doctors and emergency responders. It would be helpful if doctors were on the lookout for people with hearing loss, in other words. But it would also help if we as individuals were more mindful of some of the signs of hearing loss, too, and got help when we need it.

The following question should be asked of your doctor:

  • Is this drug addictive? Is there an alternative medicine that is less dangerous for my hearing, or do I really need this one.
  • Is this drug ototoxic? Are there alternatives?

If you are unsure of how a medicine will impact your general health, what the dangers are and how they should be taken, you should not take then home.

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