Under-50s with hearing loss more likely to misuse alcohol and drugs, research finds


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A statistical analysis by US researchers has turned up a strikingly higher likelihood of alcohol and drug abuse in under-50-year-olds with hearing loss versus their normal hearing counterparts.

And hearing care providers have been urged by the researchers to pay greater attention to doctor-patient communication in pain-management situations.

The academics, from the University of Michigan and the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System, analysed two years (2015 and 2016) of data from 86,186 respondents to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, comparing substance use disorder among adults with and without self-reported hearing loss. Dramatic results were revealed: compared to normal-hearing persons of the same age group, under-35s with hearing loss were 2.57 times more likely to have a prescription opioid use disorder, while other results showed 35-to-49-year-olds with hearing loss as twice as likely to have disorders related to both opioid and alcohol abuse.

Why? The researchers led by Michael McKee, head of Michigan's Deaf Health Clinic, and a cochlear implant user himself, said they need future studies to investigate the possible mechanisms behind this discrepancy. However, the conclusions of the study—published in full in the April edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine—highlight the benefits of "closer screening and treatment while optimizing communication with pain-related diagnoses and preferably non-opioid pain management."

Their study carries an interesting discussion of the multifactorial pathways to pain medication dependency in conditions associated with hearing loss, such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, and reported higher levels of stress and trauma among hearing-impaired persons. Poor doctor-patient communication resulting from hearing loss is another key factor discussed. Considering a possible ageing factor, the authors saw no association between hearing loss status and opioid use disorders among older adults.

Source: NewsMedicalLifeSciences/AJPM