Hearing issues under 50 may mean higher risk of substance abuse

Apr 23, 2019

According to a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, adults aged under 50 years old with hearing loss were significantly more likely to have a substance use disorder. In contrast, the study showed that individuals with hearing loss and aged over 50 years did not differ from their peers in rates of substance issues.

Interestingly, even after the scientists adjusted the analysis for variations in social, economic and mental health between the individuals with and without hearing problems, the differences remained.

The results of the study also showed that adults under the age of 35 years with hearing loss were 2.5 times more likely to also have a prescription opioid use disorder. Moreover, the findings demonstrated that individuals between the ages of 35 and 49 years who suffered from hearing loss were almost twice as likely to also have disorders associated with prescription opioids and alcohol use.

Scientists are still working on uncovering the mechanisms by which opioid-associated hearing loss occurs. In the recent years, several scientific studies have also reported high incidence of hearing loss associated with opioid overdose, especially in the younger individuals. The majority of cases of hearing loss affecting both ears was found in individuals using methadone, morphine, heroin, morphine, propoxyphene, hydrocodone, and oxycodone along with acetaminophen.

Dr. Michael McKee, the principal investigator of the study, had initiated the research investigation after he had noticed frequent occurrence of hearing loss in his younger patients with substance abuse disorders. The findings of his study include data from 86,186 adults who took part in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

According to McKee, “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… Also, the marginalizing effects of hearing loss, such as social isolation, may be creating higher rates of substance use disorders too.”

McKee also pointed out the potential lack of awareness on the part of healthcare providers of younger patients’ extent of hearing loss, who may be more vigilant of potential communication and prescription concerns among older patients. He suggested that the growing number of individuals affected by prescription opioid use disorder may be caused by increased rate of being placed on controlled substances when managing pain issues, which could be attributed to communication barriers.

“It may be easier to write a prescription rather than engage in complex patient-provider communication between a hearing provider and non-hearing patient,” he said.

According to World Health Organization, the prevalence of disabling hearing loss has increased in the recent years, with global prevalence estimated at about 15% in adults over 18 years.