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Does Drug or Alcohol Addiction Prevent You From Being Awarded Social Security Benefits?


Social Security defines drug and alcohol addiction (DAA) as “maladaptive patterns of substance use that lead to clinically significant impairment or distress.” The key to this definition is the requirement that to have DAA, a claimant must have a pattern of abuse, and not just be impaired, but “significantly impaired.” Without these, Social Security can’t consider addiction in your disability case.

What Meets the Definition

Practically, this means that if you have the occasional drink, it’s not an issue in your case. Even if you have a DUI, it’s not an issue (for Social Security, that is—it obviously has far reaching criminal law ramifications). If you admit to recreational drug usage now and then it may not even be an issue for your case, as there is no “pattern.”

Any drug or alcohol usage must cause some kind of medical condition or impairment for it to be a factor in your case (For example, if you were having hallucinations because of chronic drug abuse, or if you were not taking prescribed medication because you were unsuccessfully relying on alcohol to allay the symptoms of your condition).

Getting Benefits When Addiction is Found

Let’s assume you meet the definition of DAA. Are you automatically disqualified from receiving Social Security benefits? The answer is no. However, the Social Security Administration must be convinced that the conditions you are claiming disability for would have existed regardless of the DAA. In other words, this means that even without any side effect or condition caused by DAA, you still suffered medically-disabling conditions.

For example, if you have cancer, or a spinal cord injury, it may be easy to separate the symptoms of those conditions from those caused by DAA. But with others, such as mental impairments, it may be more difficult to argue that some of your problems are not being caused by DAA.

Getting Disability for Addiction Itself

Although medical science today recognizes that addiction is a disease, Social Security does not. Addiction by itself is not a condition that will allow you to be awarded Social Security benefits.

You can get benefits if addiction has caused conditions or problems that would continue even if you stopped being addicted, assuming those problems by themselves are disabling.

For example, you can’t get benefits for alcohol addiction. But if the addiction has caused cirrhosis of the liver, a condition that would continue even if you stopped drinking, you can still apply for Social Security disability for the cirrhosis.

Are you thinking about applying for Social Security disability? Contact us at the Celeste Law Firm in West Palm Beach today for help with your Social Security disability case.


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