Early Hearing Loss May Mean Higher Risk of Drug and Alcohol Issues

Hearing loss is associated with a number of physical and mental health issues. Now, a recently published study indicates that substance abuse may be one of those issues. Researchers at the University of Michigan and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare system studying the link between substance abuse and hearing loss in young and middle-aged adults discovered something surprising. People under age 50 suffering from hearing loss were twice as likely as their hearing peers to misuse prescription opioids.

It’s no secret that opioid addiction is a problem in the United States. Data from the Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 130 people in the U.S. die each day from opioid-related drug overdoses. Add that to the number of people who are die from alcohol abuse and drug abuse each day, and it’s obvious we need as much data as possible to identify potential risks.

Each person with a substance abuse disorder has a unique story. However, there are several distinct factors that are commonly seen as increasing one’s risk of addiction. Most commonly, untreated psychiatric disorders and a lack of socioeconomic resources are linked with substance abuse. Until now, hearing loss has not been understood as a risk factor.

According to the recent study, based on data gathered from 86,186 adults who took part in a National Survey on Drug Use and Health, adults under 50 were at a higher risk than their peers for a substance use disorder. Those over 50 with hearing loss, on the other hand, were not different from their peers in terms of rates of substance abuse. This study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. After adjusting for differences in social, economic, and mental health, the research indicates that adults under 35 were 2 ½ times more likely to have an opioid use disorder. People between the ages 35 to 49 are twice as likely to have both prescription opioid and alcohol related disorders.

What’s the connection? Researchers speculate that the isolating effects of hearing loss may contribute to the risk of substance abuse disorders. Moreover, hearing loss is associated with a range of health problems that may place people at higher risk. Because of communication barriers, healthcare providers may be more likely to prescribe pain killers than have a lengthy conversation. It could be that older people face less of a risk because providers are more accustomed to seeing hearing loss in older populations, thus more sensitive to it. The takeaway is that health providers may need to be careful when treating pain conditions in younger people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

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