Hearing Loss Linked to Higher Drug & Alcohol Use


If you have hearing loss in American Fork – especially if you are younger than 50 – you’re twice as likely to misuse prescription opioids, according to a new national study. Your odds of abusing alcohol and other drugs are also higher. This makes early detection and treatment extremely important.

Hearing Loss & Substance Abuse

A beer being poured into a glass

“The marginalizing effects of hearing loss, such as social isolation, may be creating higher rates of substance use disorders,” warns Michael McKee, M.D. His words echo the findings of a study published in the April issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, which collected data from 86,186 adults who responded to the University of Michigan and VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Dr. McKee, lead researcher, had observed a disproportionate number of younger patients with hearing loss dealing with substance use disorders and wanted to know if there was a connection. He runs the Deaf Health Clinic, which provides primary care and mental health care to deaf and hearing-impaired patients of Michigan Medicine, the University of Michigan’s academic medical center. McKee was already keenly aware of the other detrimental effects of hearing loss, such as physical and mental health issues and an increased risk of pain disorders.

Results of the study showed that adults under the age of 50 with hearing loss were more likely than similarly-aged peers to suffer from a substance use disorder. Even accounting for differences in social, economic and mental health between the hearing and hearing-impaired populations, these differences remained. The difference was especially pronounced in adults under 35 with hearing loss; this group was 2 ½ times more likely to have a prescription opioid use disorder, while those between the ages of 35 and 49 with hearing loss were almost twice as likely as their peers with normal hearing to have disorders related to both prescription opioids and alcohol. Interestingly, those over 50 did not experience a higher rate of substance issues.

McKee believes part of the problem might stem from the need to address pain issues through the use of prescription opioids, the easiest solution when hearing loss presents communication barriers between doctors and patients. Another issue may be a lack of awareness by health care providers over the degree of hearing loss suffered by their younger patients. 5 percent of survey respondents reported serious hearing loss or deafness; this includes 1.5 percent under the age of 35, 2.2 percent aged 35-49, and 9.4 percent over 50.

Resolving this issue and helping to stem the tide of substance abuse requires providers approach all patients, regardless of age, without assumptions over their communication abilities. Each patient’s hearing loss and communication issues should be assessed on a case-by-case basis before determining a treatment solution.

Bottom line: it’s a slippery slope from hearing loss to substance use disorders, particularly if you are younger than the stereotypical hearing-impaired patient. If you or a loved one have any hearing concerns, scheduling an appointment with an American Fork audiologist is a great proactive step in ensuring continued long-term health.

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