New Research Finds Greater Rate of Opioid & Alcohol Use Disorders Among Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing Populations

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If you have read or watched the news in the last year, you have probably learned that the United States is struggling with an opioid crisis. The country is dealing with an addiction problem in general, and it’s an issue that is impacting people of all backgrounds, cultures, races, ethnicities, and ages.

The deaf and hard-of-hearing population is struggling with an opioid and addiction problem, too – yet it seems to be even more serious than that affecting the general population. A new study has found that people under the age of 50 with hearing loss are at a higher risk of opioid and alcohol issues.

The statistics revealed in the new study are staggering. Researchers at the University of Michigan and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System conducted the study by analyzing data from over 86,000 adults who participated in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

They found that adults under the age of 35 with hearing loss were 2.5 times more likely to have a prescription opioid use disorder than adults of the same age with normal hearing. In addition, adults between the ages of 35 and 49 with hearing loss were almost twice as likely to have prescription opioid or alcohol disorders than those with normal hearing. Interestingly, adults over the age of 50 with hearing loss did not differ from their normal-hearing peers in rates of alcohol or prescription opioid use disorders.

Of course, it is important in studies like these to consider other factors that may contribute to prescription opioid and alcohol disorders, such as social circumstances, economic status, and mental health. After adjusting for these factors, however, the differences between those with hearing loss and those with normal hearing remain.

What causes this difference? Why are individuals with hearing loss so much more likely to have prescription opioid or alcohol disorders? Although there is not one single correct answer, researchers from the University of Michigan have a few hypotheses.

First, the higher rate of prescription opioid use disorder may be connected to the higher rate at which deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals are placed on controlled substances to address pain issues. Communication barriers may contribute to this; medical providers may find it easier to simply write a prescription than to engage in communication that is often complex and challenging due to hearing loss.

A second hypothesis has to do with other health problems linked to hearing loss. Many individuals with hearing loss also suffer from physical and mental health issues that can place them at risk for pain disorders. Finally, social isolation and other marginalizing effects of hearing loss may contribute to the higher rate of substance abuse disorders among the hard-of-hearing population.

It is important for healthcare providers in all fields to be aware of these factors and to ensure that individuals with hearing loss receive appropriate care. Access to addiction-related care may be limited for individuals with hearing loss as well. With greater awareness among health professionals and greater access to addiction care, we may be able to help lower the rate of prescription opioid and alcohol disorders among the deaf and hard-of-hearing population.

Please feel free to contact our hearing practice today to learn more about how we can provide individualized care for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals.

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