The impact of hearing loss, especially if untreated, is substantial. Hearing is one of the five senses and your body depends on all five to function properly. The risks of not keeping up with your vision tests are evident – you can’t read, you can’t drive – it’s an immediate impact. The risks of not making sure you keep on top of hearing loss may be subtle, but they are just as impactful. Stay on the path to a healthy, long life by making sure you get regular hearing exams at Active Hearing & Audiology.
A national study published in March of 2019 indicates individuals under age 50 with hearing loss are twice as likely to misuse prescription drugs as their normal hearing peers. They are also more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs.
Hearing loss and addiction
A team from the University of Michigan and VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System analyzed data from a little more than 86,000 adults who participated in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The survey found that adults under 50 with hearing loss were more likely than others in their age group to have a substance abuse disorder of some kind, and those over 50 with hearing loss were not statistically different in their rates of substance abuse than their peers.
Researchers adjusted survey results to account for differences in social, economic and mental health for the hearing- and hearing-impaired populations involved in the survey, and the differences in substance abuse rates remained. Those between ages 35 and 45 with hearing loss were nearly twice as likely than their peers without hearing loss, to have substance abuse disorders involving opioids and alcohol.
Dr. Michael McKee, of the Deaf Health Clinic at the University of Michigan, provides primary care and mental health care to the deaf and hard of hearing. He saw a need for the study when he noticed that a disproportionate share of his younger patients with hearing loss were struggling with substance use issues. “Hearing loss is connected with a variety of health problems, including mental and physical health, that may place these individuals at risk for pain disorders,” says McKee. “Also, the marginalizing effects of hearing loss, such as social isolation, may be creating higher rates of substance use disorders, too.”
Notable Conclusions from the Survey
McKee said in his conclusions that for some health care providers who know of their patient’s hearing loss, it is easier to quickly address the issue of pain management by giving an opioid prescription because of communication barriers. Research also suggests that some of the issue may be due to general health care providers not being aware of the degree of hearing loss of their younger patients. It may be easier, he says, for health care providers to write a prescription rather than to try and navigate the complex communication issues with someone who is deaf or has hearing loss.
Five percent of adults of all ages who took part in the survey said they had serious hearing issues or were deaf. The largest percentage of those reporting hearing loss was 9.4% for individuals over 50.
McKee, who himself has hearing loss, said the study points to health care providers needing to be more attuned to potential communication and prescription concerns with older patients. He recommends that health care providers approach each patient, regardless of age, with no assumptions about their communication abilities and assess each individually for any issues they may have and then make the necessary accommodations.
“We need to first inquire and ensure effective and accessible communication with our patients. We need to be willing to engage in a dialogue to explore the root of their pain/mental health issues rather than just dispensing a prescription that may lead to dependency or addiction,” McKee says. He also said there is a lack of access to addiction related care for deaf and hard of hearing patients that may play a role in the substance abuse numbers.
Stay on Top of Your Hearing Issues
If you have hearing concerns that may be hampering your communication efforts, we can help with that at Active Hearing & Audiology. Family-owned and operated, we keep your best interests at the forefront. Contact us today to schedule a consultation!