Alcoholism and other forms of substance abuse can have a profound effect on a person’s life and their ability to work, but according to the Social Security Administration, an addiction alone will not qualify you for benefits.
Until 1996, substance abuse was considered to be a free-standing disability under Social Security disability law. Today, applicants are no longer able to apply for benefits based on their addiction alone; instead, medical evidence must be provided to show that they have a separate disabling condition. If no disability except substance abuse exists, then the person is not considered disabled in the eyes of the Social Security Administration.
Substance Abuse & Disability Benefits
Many addictions can cause permanent damage to the body and mind. The Social Security Administration does recognize that many conditions can be caused by alcohol or substance abuse, including:
- Organic mental disorders
- Depression and anxiety
- Personality disorders
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Liver damage
Though an addiction can cause a condition covered in the Social Security’s Listing of Impairments, substance use that actively worsens your symptoms can disqualify a person for benefits. The thinking here is that if the applicant were to stop drinking or using the substance, they would be able to work. Any impairment (or degree of impairment) that would be resolved with discontinued substance abuse will not be considered a disability by the SSA.
If the person is addicted but has another medical impairment, one that would not be affected if the abuse stopped, then there can be eligibility for benefits. For example, if someone has AIDS or cancer, plus an addiction, halting substance abuse will not change the fact that the underlying disability exists from the other illness. Additionally, State or local medical marijuana laws have no bearing on federal law.
What Does That Mean For My Case?
Though addiction can affect the entire body, it is generally treated as a mental illness in disability law. Compared to a physical condition, mental illnesses tend to be more difficult to provide medical evidence for. Any claimant living with a drug or alcohol addiction could be on the hook to prove whether or not their addiction is “material” to their disability claim. Working with an attorney who understands the relationship between substance abuse and disability can help make the application process easier and more straight-forward.
Are You Living With Substance Abuse and Disability?
If you are suffering from a condition caused by past substance use, or are living with a separate condition, we can help you apply for benefits. Our law office provides free case evaluations to all potential clients in order to encourage people to seek the help they need. Contact us today for legal assistance with your Social Security or SSI disability claim.
We expect clients who have a history of substance abuse to be actively participating in treatment for their addiction.