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

You most likely are aware that the US . is facing an opioid crisis. More than 130 people are dying daily from an overdose. But what you might not have heard yet is that there is a disturbing connection between hearing loss and drug and alcohol abuse.

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

After evaluating nearly 86,000 respondents, they found this connection is stronger the younger the person is. What causes the connection in the first place, unfortunately, is still not clear.

Here’s what this specific research found:

  • In terms of hearing loss, people older than fifty who developed hearing loss were not different from their peers in terms of substance abuse.
  • People were two times as likely to develop a general substance abuse problem than their peers if they got hearing loss between the ages of 35 and 49.
  • People were at least twice as likely to misuse opioids than their peers if they developed hearing loss when they were under the age of fifty. They were also generally more likely to misuse other substances, like alcohol.

Solutions and Hope

Those numbers are shocking, especially because experts have already taken into account concerns like class and economics. So, now that we’ve recognized a connection, we need to do something about it, right? Well, that can be difficult without understanding the exact cause (remember: causation is not correlation). Researchers had a couple of theories:

  • Social solitude: It’s well established that hearing loss can lead to social isolation and cognitive decline. In these situations, self-medication can be relatively common, and if the person doesn’t understand that hearing loss is an issue or what the cause is, this is especially true.
  • 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 hurry than normal. In these cases, if patients aren’t able to communicate very well, say they aren’t able to hear questions or directions from the staff, they might not get proper treatment. They might agree to suggestions of pain medication without fully understanding the risks, or they might mishear dosage instructions.
  • Medications that are ototoxic: Hearing loss is known to be caused by these medications.
  • Higher blood pressure: It’s also true, of course, 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 hearing loss, the harmful repercussions are the same to your health.

Preventing Hearing Loss and Substance Abuse

It’s suggested by the authors of the study, that communications standards be kept up to date by doctors and emergency departments. It would be helpful if doctors were on the lookout for individuals with loss of hearing, in other words. We individuals don’t seek help when we should and that would also be very helpful.

The following question should be asked of your doctor:

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

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

Additionally, 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. Schedule a hearing exam right away.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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