A Relationship between Hearing Loss & Substance Abuse Disorders

A Relationship between Hearing Loss & Substance Abuse Disorders

In Health, Hearing Health, Hearing Loss, Hearing Loss Causes, News, Research, Substance Abuse by Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A

Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A

Most of us know that hearing loss can lead to poorer overall health and reduced communication. But did you know of the link between hearing loss and substance abuse?

Individuals under age 50 with hearing loss misuse prescription opioids twice as much as those without hearing loss, and are also more likely to turn to alcohol and other drugs, according to a new national study. The findings could have implications for healthcare providers and the way in which they treat pain and mental health conditions in deaf and hearing-impaired young adults.

The research was undertaken by team from the University of Michigan and VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, analysing data on 86,186 adults who were taking part in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Published the American Journal of Preventative medicine, the study was led by Michael M. McKee, a physician in the Department of Family Medicine at the university. McKee decided to lead the research after realising that a large group of his younger patients with hearing loss were also battling substance use disorders.


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 age 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. On the whole, those under 50 with hearing loss were more likely than others in their age cohort to have a substance use issue of any sort, while those more than 50 with hearing loss had the same risk as their peers in rates of substance issues.

These figures remained steady even after the researchers adjusted for disparities in social, economic and mental health between those with hearing loss and those without.

Why the hearing-impaired are more likely to abuse substances

These results are consistent with recent research that people with hearing loss are more likely to abuse substances than those with regular hearing. They’re also more likely to report higher levels of stress and trauma, as well as being four times more likely to report psychological distress than their hearing peers.

McKee is involved in the running of the Deaf Health Clinic that offers primary care and mental health care to d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing patients of the University of Michigan’s academic medical center. He says the increased risk of mental health issues from those with hearing loss may explain some of these research findings.

“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.”

Communication barriers

When hearing loss is known by healthcare professionals, McKee believes that the higher rate of prescription opioid use disorder might come from a being more likely to be placed on substances which are most efficient at treating pain issues, instead of taking a more nuanced solution to the problem. “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 says.

McKee believes that healthcare practitioners need to work harder to overcome this communication barrier and solve deeper reasons for physical and mental issues.

“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,” he says.

What is recommended is more of a “universal communication precautions” approach to patient-doctor relations. This means taking steps to assess barriers to communication so that they may be successfully broken down, in order to successfully address the specific needs of each patient.

Hearing loss can lead to all kinds of health consequences, many of which are unexpected. Do you think you might have hearing loss? Schedule a consultation with South Shore Hearing Center today!