ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN — According to a newly published study, prescription opioid use disorder was found to be twice as high among deaf and hard-of-hearing young and middle-aged adults, when compared with peers who don’t have hearing loss.
The study by researchers at the University of Michigan and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, published in the April issue of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, analyzed data on 86,186 adults who took part in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Adults under 35 with hearing loss were found to be 2½ times more likely to have a prescription opioid use disorder. Those ages 35 to 49 who had hearing loss were nearly twice as likely as their hearing peers to have disorders related to both prescription opioids and alcohol. Those over 50 with hearing loss did not differ from their peers in rates of substance issues.
Even after adjusting for differences in social, economic and mental health between the hearing and hard-of-hearing populations, the differences remained.
Hearing Loss and Substance Abuse
According to researchers who led the study, their findings indicate that health care providers may need to take special care when treating pain and mental health conditions in deaf and hard-of-hearing young adults.
Michael McKee, MD, MPH, who led the research and runs the University of Michigan Deaf Health Clinic, suspects the higher rate of prescription opioid use disorder may stem from a higher rate of being placed on controlled substances to quickly address pain issues, perhaps because of 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”
Dr. McKee, a physician who himself uses a cochlear implant, added that “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 notes that lack of access to addiction-related care for deaf and hard-of-hearing patients may play a role.
Michael M. McKee, Michelle A. Meade, Philip Zazove, Haylie J. Stewart, Mary L. Jannausch, Mark A. Ilgen, The Relationship Between Hearing Loss and Substance Use Disorders Among Adults in the U.S., American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 56, Issue 4, 2019, Pages 586-590
Source: University of Michigan