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How Does Drug or Alcohol Abuse Affect My Disability Claim?


If you suffer from substance abuse, you may be afraid that you will never be approved for Social Security disability benefits. However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn’t have a rule forbidding past or current substance abusers from receiving disability benefits. Depending on your situation, you may still be able to qualify.

The SSA’s rule for giving benefits to current or former substance abusers is simple: You will not be eligible for benefits if your only disabling condition is the result of your current substance abuse. Here’s how that plays out in four common situations:

Situation #1: I’m a Former Substance Abuser


For people who abused drugs or alcohol in the past but have since gotten clean, there is no reason you should not be eligible for disability benefits.

Even if your disability is the result of your past drug or alcohol abuse, you may still be approved. For example, if you were heavily addicted to alcohol in the past and are now suffering from liver problems, the SSA will allow your liver problems to count as your disabling condition.

Situation #2: I’m a Current Substance Abuser Disabled Only by Conditions Caused by My Addiction


If you are currently abusing drugs or alcohol and your disabling conditions can be traced directly to that abuse, you likely will not be able to receive disability benefits.

The SSA will not approve someone for benefits if their condition is the result of their own current substance abuse. For example, if you are unable to work only because of your heroin addiction, that means that if you were to go to rehab, you may be able to overcome your addiction and return to work, so you would not be eligible for disability benefits.

Even though some medical professionals consider addiction to be a disease, it is not a disease that the SSA counts toward your disability claim.

For people stuck in this situation, seeking help is your best option. Rehabilitation programs like Alcoholics Anonymous can help substance abusers overcome their addictions. After you’ve received help and become sober, you can determine whether or not your medical impairments have improved. If you’re still suffering from certain disabling conditions after you’ve become sober, you may be eligible for disability benefits at that time.

Situation #3: I’m a Current Substance Abuser Disabled by Multiple Conditions


You are still eligible for disability benefits if you are disabled by conditions other than those that can be traced back to your addiction.

This can be difficult to prove if your only disabling conditions are mental health conditions. For example, a person who suffers from a heroin addiction and extreme anxiety may struggle to get approved for disability benefits. The SSA will need to know whether that person uses drugs because they are anxious or, rather, if that person is anxious because they use drugs.

As with any disability claim, you will need to prove that your disability is a medically determinable impairment. This means that your condition is able to be measured, documented, and proven by medical means. You cannot rely on your own opinion of your medical condition; you need a doctor to professionally diagnose you. This is especially important if you’re trying to prove that your condition is not the result of your substance abuse.

If your condition is clearly separate from your substance abuse—if, for example, you’ve suffered from blindness since childhood, but you’ve recently developed an addiction to alcohol—you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting approved for disability benefits.

Situation #4: I’m a Former Substance Abuser Who Recently Relapsed


If, during your approval process, you suffer a relapse, you will not jeopardize your disability claim. Relapses are an unfortunate, yet often common part of the recovery process. Seeking help to get you back on the path to sobriety is not only the best thing for your health, but also for your disability claim.

The SSA will be trying to determine whether or not your conditions are solely the result of your substance abuse and whether or not you could return to work if you were sober. Your relapse may cause you to suffer from other disabling conditions or it may increase the intensity of the condition you currently suffer from now. That doesn’t mean your substance abuse causes you to be disabled.

Let’s return to the example of the blind person struggling with alcoholism. Their relapse with alcohol may worsen their condition, but it doesn’t cause their blindness. Sobriety may ease their condition, but it may not enable them to return to work. In this case, the blind person suffering from a relapse would probably still be approved for disability benefits.

Help from an Indiana Social Security Disability Attorney

If you are suffering from substance abuse and a disabling condition, you are not alone. What is most important is seeking help to quit your addiction and become sober.

But just because you suffer from a substance abuse problem doesn’t mean you’re ineligible for disability benefits. An Indiana Social Security disability attorney can evaluate your situation and determine your likelihood of being approved, no matter what stage you’re at on the road to sobriety.

Hensley Legal Group can help. Call us today or contact us online to set up a free consultation. Be sure to download our free eBook, Eight Mistakes to Avoid When Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits.