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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 more than 130 people each day. 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 conducted by a team from the University of Michigan, there’s a link between those under fifty who suffer from loss of hearing and abuse of alcohol or other substances.

After evaluating around 86,000 participants, they found this connection is stronger the younger the person is. Sadly, it’s still not well known what causes that link to begin with.

Here’s what this specific 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. They were also usually more likely to abuse other things, such as alcohol.
  • 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 who developed hearing loss when they were the ages of 35-49 were two times as likely to develop general substance abuse problems than their peers.

Solutions and Hope

Those figures are staggering, especially because experts have already accounted for concerns like economics and class. So, now that we’ve recognized a connection, we have 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 address the problem. Researchers did have a couple of theories:

  • Medications that are ototoxic: These medications are known to cause hearing loss.
  • Lack of communication: Emergency medical departments are designed to get people in, deal with them, and process them 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 usual. In cases such as this, a patient might not get correct treatment because they can’t hear questions and instructions properly. They might not hear dosage information or other medication instructions.
  • Social solitude: 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.
  • 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 incidents increase loss of hearing, or those with loss of hearing are more likely to have them, the harmful consequences are the same to your health.

Preventing Hearing Loss and Substance Abuse

It’s recommended by the authors of the study, that communications protocols 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. But it would also help if we as individuals were more aware of some of the signs of hearing loss, too, and got help when we need it.

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

  • Will I become addicted to this drug? Is there an alternative medication that is less dangerous for my hearing, or do I truly need this one.
  • Will I have an ototoxic reaction to this medication? Are there alternatives?

If you are unsure of how a medication will impact your overall health, what the risk are and how they should be used, you should not take then home.

Also, don’t wait to be tested if suspect that you might already be suffering from loss of hearing. 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.