It’s no secret that the United States is in the middle of an opioid crisis. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 130 people die each and every day in the United States from opioid-related drug overdoses, not to mention the countless people who die from alcohol and other drug-related incidents, too.
While each and every person who becomes addicted to drugs and alcohol has their own unique story, there are a number of different factors that can increase one’s risk for abusing drugs and alcohol or of becoming addicted. The most commonly cited risk factors for addiction and abuse include untreated psychiatric disorders and difficult socioeconomic conditions, but did you know that young adults with hearing loss are at an increased risk for substance abuse?
A recently published study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System sought to investigate the link between substance abuse and hearing loss in young and middle-aged adults. What they found is quite surprising.
According to the research, Americans under the age of 25 with diagnosed hearing loss were up to two and a half times more likely to have a substance abuse problem with prescription drugs when compared to their regular hearing peers. Moreover, adults between the ages of 35 to 49 were twice as likely as normal hearing people of the same age to have a prescription opioid and alcohol abuse problem. Somewhat interestingly, the researchers also found that people over 50 with hearing loss did not have any significant increase in risk from their peers when it comes to substance abuse.
At first, one could try to look for some other underlying cause for this increase in risk among young and middle-aged adults with hearing loss, such as low socioeconomic status or a history of mental health problems, that could explain the discrepancy. However, even after adjusting for any of these potential differences, the researchers found that their data still rang true.
It can be difficult to think that so many young people and middle-aged adults are at risk of developing a potentially life-threatening substance abuse problem, but the researchers have hope that something can be done to deal with this crisis. To start with, the researchers believe that health care providers that prescribe opioids for pain and mental health conditions need to take special care when doing so for young and middle-aged adults with hearing loss.
However, the researchers note that this is easier said than done. Since some healthcare providers might have difficulty communicating effectively with their deaf or hard of hearing patients, they may find it easier to simply write off a prescription for an opioid than to have a chat with their patient about their issues.
A decrease in communication levels or a perceived inability to communicate may make a healthcare provider feel like they can’t take the time to adequately discuss alternative pain management plans that don’t involve opioids. Especially when we consider that many deaf and hard of hearing young and middle-aged adults also are at an increased risk for mental and physical health issues, the researchers argue that any steps toward curbing prescription rates of opioids to this population group are imperative.