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Can I Get Social Security Disability Benefits if I Have a Drug or Alcohol Problem?

December 14, 2020

It is common knowledge that drugs or alcohol, when used in excess, are detrimental to health and have long-lasting consequences if not stopped in time. What isn’t common knowledge is whether someone with a drug or alcohol problem would get social security disability benefits. As skilled lawyers, we take an interest in this.

Years of legal practice have shown our social security law attorneys that most people believe having an addiction problem prohibits them from qualifying for the social security disability benefits. This article will separate fiction from facts, and in the end, you’ll have an answer to whether you can get SSDI benefits if you have a drug or alcohol addiction.

The Past and Present of Social Security Disability Benefits and Addiction

In 1996, the Social Security Act was enacted to eliminate persons with alcohol or drug addiction from those who have access to disability benefits. Before the passage of that law, individuals could get either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if their addiction’s severity keeps them from working.

The law is neither of the two today, as the Social Security Administration (SSA) took a little of both to provide a leeway for drug or alcohol addicts. The current position states that a person cannot receive disability benefits if drug or alcohol addiction is a “Material factor” in their disability.

This means that you can only be considered disabled by the SSA if your medical condition is not a result of drug or alcohol usage or worsened by the consumption of either of the two. Another reasonable ground for not granting the benefits is if the disability is reversible.

Note that it doesn’t mean that you can get denied the benefits by the SSA just because you have a drug or alcohol addiction. In summary:

  • Addiction itself is not a justifiable reason to deny an applicant of social security disability benefits.
  • A person with a reversible condition caused by drug or alcohol addiction will not access the benefits.
  • A disabling impairment distinct from the applicant’s drug or alcohol addiction would qualify them for the benefits.

Determining What Amounts to a Material Factor

As mentioned earlier, addiction must be a “Material factor” in the cause of your disability before you can get denied the social security disability benefits. The consumption of drugs or alcohol does not necessarily amount to an addiction.

There must be substantial medical evidence showing that you have substance dependency, addiction, compulsory dependency, abuse, or use disorder. The SSA would then carry out a drug addiction or alcohol (DAA) determination to determine your usage pattern.

The SSA might order a mental examination if it needs more evidence to determine the extent of your drug or alcohol abuse. To this end, drug abuse would be seen as a “Material factor” if it:

  • Results in a permanent disability;
  • Continues to affect your condition; and
  • If there’s evidence, the disability will reverse if you stop drinking or using illegal substances.

Getting Social Security Disability Benefits Despite Having an Addiction Problem 

After getting a DAA evaluation from an SSA consultant, the next thing is to determine drug or alcohol addiction limitations and unrelated limitations. Knowing this would determine whether or not you will get social security disability benefits.

To achieve this, the consultant will look at:

  1. Which of your physical or mental disabilities would still exist or would be nonexistent if you discontinue drug or alcohol usage.
  2. Medical records to determine if the liabilities remained or disappeared when you stopped the drug or alcohol abuse.
  3. Pre-addiction medical records showing if the cause of the disability pre-existed the drug or alcohol addiction.

If the consultant finds that the disability would remain and prevent you from getting a job, you’re qualified for even if you quit drinking or using drugs, they would recommend you for the benefits. The key here is that your addiction cannot worsen the limitations you currently have.

Furthermore, you will also get the social security disability benefits if the consultant finds that your disabilities are unrelated to your addiction. For example, a diabetics amputee would be considered disabled despite having a drinking problem since the amputation is a direct result of diabetes, not alcoholism.

Have More Questions? Consult a Tabak Law Firm Disability Attorney

At Tabak Law Firm, Milwaukee, WI, we have a team of disability attorneys well equipped to answer your questions on your qualification for social security disability benefits. Our disability benefits lawyers have 45 years of experience helping injured plaintiffs get their claims approved. Contact us to arrange a free case review.

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