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

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

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

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

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

In all, 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 who had hearing loss were nearly twice as likely as their normal-hearing peers to have problems with both prescription opioids and alcohol.

Why is this happening?

The researchers have several theories:

The marginalizing effects of hearing loss, such as social isolation, may be contributing to mental health problems that are leading to substance abuse.
Communication barriers between young hearing-impaired patients and their doctors may be leading 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 that often physicians are more likely to expect hearing problems with older patients and adjust their communication and prescription styles to accommodate these patients.

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.

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