People Under 50 with Hearing Loss at Twice the Risk of Abusing Drugs and Alcohol

Middle aged woman with hearing loss

Hearing Impairment and Substance Abuse: Unveiling Troubling Connections

Examining the Disturbing Relationship Between Impaired Hearing and Addiction in Younger Adults

Researchers from the University of Michigan recently made a troubling discovery.

The Vulnerable Demographic: Young Adults Battling Hearing Impairment

People younger than 50 with impaired hearing (deaf or hard of hearing) are twice as likely to misuse prescription opioids and struggle with alcohol addiction.

These findings come from data on 86,186 U.S. adults participating in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Adults under 50 years of age with hearing impairment were found to be much more likely to suffer from substance abuse disorder than those not hearing impaired.

Interestingly – those over 50 with hearing loss did not differ from others in that cohort in terms of their rates of substance abuse.

Specifically, adults under 35 with hearing loss were 2½ times more likely to abuse prescription opioids. Those ages 35 to 49 with hearing loss were nearly twice as likely as their normal hearing peers to have problems with prescription opioids and alcohol.

Why does impaired hearing lead to higher use of prescription opioids and higher consumption alcohol?

Exploring the Underlying Causes: Understanding the Link Between Hearing Loss and Substance Abuse

The researchers have several theories:

  • The marginalizing effects of hearing loss, such as social isolation, may contribute to mental health problems leading to substance abuse.
  • Communication barriers between young hearing-impaired patients and their doctors may lead to premature prescribing of pain relief medications.
  • A lack of understanding by medical providers of the degree of hearing loss in younger patients.


Michael McKee, M.D., MPH, led the research effort and believes physicians are often more likely to expect hearing problems with older patients and adjust their communication and prescription styles to accommodate them.

Universal Communication Precautions: A Call to Medical Providers

He feels providers should use “universal communication precautions,” approaching each patient without assuming they can hear and communicate well, assessing for hearing loss and other communication-related issues, and determining how to accommodate each patient.

This study was published in April 2019 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine[i].

If you are hearing impaired and struggling with an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol and need help in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, or Indiana, the recovery teams at Aware Recovery Care are here to help. And we come to you, regardless of where you live. Our unique in-home treatment model of care gives clients a significantly better chance of recovery than traditional inpatient rehab care. Please get in touch with one of our Addiction Recovery Specialists to learn more.