Possible Link Between Hearing Loss Before Age 50 and Substance Abuse

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A recent study by the University of Michigan and VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System showed that people under age 50 with hearing loss misuse prescription opioids at twice the rate compared to their hearing peers and are more likely to misuse alcohol and other drugs, as well. The study was led by Dr. Michael McKee after noticing that a relatively large share of his younger patients with hearing loss were struggling with substance abuse disorders. Dr. McKee runs the Deaf Health Clinic, which provides primary care and mental health care to deaf and hard-of-hearing patients.

Even after researchers adjusted for differences in social, economic and mental health between the hearing and hard-of-hearing populations, the differences remained. Adults under age 35 with a hearing loss were two and a half times more likely to have a prescription opioid use disorder. Those between ages 35 and 49 who had hearing loss were nearly twice as likely as their hearing peers to have disorders related to both prescription opioids and alcohol.

This study should be of particular interest to healthcare providers who prescribe pain and mental health medications to patients with hearing loss.

If you or someone you know in the Charlottesville or Roanoke, VA areas may be experiencing hearing loss, please contact us. For concerns of substance abuse, you can visit the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) treatment locator website. On that page, you can search for providers by zip code.