Drug and Alcohol Abuse: The Kiss of Death in a Disability Claim

By: Kirsten E. Wold

It occurs time and again. A person, who may legitimately be disabled based on their physical or mental impairments, will be denied their disability benefits based on the fact that they are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol.

Years ago, one could receive disability based on an addiction. This is no longer the case: as of 1996 a law was passed declaring that drug addicts or alcoholics cannot be considered “disabled” on the basis of that diagnosis alone. It is true that a diagnosis of drug addiction or alcoholism should not have an effect on a disability evaluation that is adverse to the applicant. However, judges are human, and if a case lands on their desk of a drug addict or alcoholic, there will be little empathy for that person right off the bat.

The law states that the judge must determine whether an addiction to drugs or alcohol is a “contributing factor material to the determination of disability.” If they find that it is, then they must determine whether that person would remain disabled if they stopped using drugs or alcohol. Often that means that there must be evidence in the record of a significant period of sobriety (no use of drugs or alcohol) during which time the person has undergone treatment for his or her other medical conditions which include notations by the treating sources that he or she is unable to work.

Drug and alcohol addiction most often interferes with the claims of people with mental illnesses. These are the cases where it is most difficult to separate out the issues of what symptoms addiction brings and what is solely because of mental illness.

The bottom line is, if you have an addiction to drugs or alcohol and you are seeking disability benefits based on other physical or mental impairments, try to get clean. It is best not to be on the judge’s bad side before even walking in to the hearing. Your chances of winning will significantly improve if your record is clean of drug and alcohol problems. Please seek treatment if at all possible. We understand that addiction is difficult to overcome, but there is help out there.

Alcoholics Anonymous: (317)632-7864

BehaviorCorp: (317)574-1254

Fairbanks Hospital – Chemical Dependency Treatment Services: (317)849-8222

Gallahue Mental Health Services: (317)621-5719; (866)621-5719

St. Vincent Stress Center: (317)338-4600; (800)872-2210