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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 each day. But what you might not be aware of is that there is a disturbing connection between loss of hearing and drug and alcohol abuse.

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

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

Here’s what this particular research found:

  • People who developed hearing loss when they were younger than fifty were at least twice as likely to abuse opioids than their peers. They were also generally more likely to misuse other things, like alcohol.
  • People were twice as likely to develop a general substance abuse problem than their peers if they got hearing loss between the ages of 35 and 49.
  • When it comes to hearing loss, people over the age of fifty who developed hearing loss didn’t differ from their peers in terms of substance abuse.

Hope and Solutions

Because researchers have already taken into account economics and class so those figures are especially staggering. We have to do something about it, though, now that we have identified a connection. Well, that can be a problem without knowing the exact cause (remember: causation is not correlation). Researchers did have a couple of theories:

  • Ototoxic medications: These medications are known to cause hearing loss.
  • Social solitude: It’s well established that hearing loss can lead to social isolation and cognitive decline. 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 departments are designed to get people in, deal with them, and get them out as efficiently (or, in many cases, quickly) as they can. Sometimes they are in a rush, particularly if there’s a life-threatening emergency waiting for them. In these cases, if patients aren’t capable of communicating very well, say they can’t hear questions or instructions from the staff, they might not receive correct treatment. They may agree to suggestions of pain medicine without completely listening to the risks, or they might mishear dosage instructions.
  • Higher blood pressure: It’s also true, of course, that alcohol raises your blood pressure, sometimes to unhealthy levels. And both high blood pressure and some pain killers have been shown to harm your hearing.

Whether these situations increase hearing loss, or those with hearing loss are more likely to have them, the damaging repercussions to your health are the same.

Preventing Hearing Loss and Substance Abuse

The authors of the research recommend that doctors and emergency departments work extra hard to make sure that their communication methods are current and being implemented. 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 mindful of some of the signs of hearing loss, too, and sought help when we need it.

The following question need to be asked of your doctor:

  • Is this medication addictive? Do I really need it, or is there an alternative medicine available that is less dangerous?
  • Is this medication ototoxic? What are the alternate options?

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

Additionally, if you suspect you have hearing loss, don’t wait to get checked. If you ignore your hearing loss for only two years you will increase your health care expenses by 26%. So schedule an appointment now to have a hearing test.

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