January 8, 2017
Alcoholism and drug dependency are serious problems that can severely affect both the physical and mental health of a person. In the past, it was possible to receive Social Security assistance for alcoholism and drug addiction. This has since changed, and it is now not possible to receive disability assistance just based on substance dependency alone.
However, there may be other ways in which you can indirectly receive assistance for past drug or alcohol use. Drug and alcohol use can cause long-term and irreversible physical and mental illnesses, such as liver damage or depression. If you are suffering from medical conditions brought on by long term drug or alcohol use, you may be able to apply for disability assistance if:
- Your condition is included in the Social Security Administration’s listing of impairments;
- You do not make over a certain amount per month;
- The condition is expected to last longer than 12 months; and
- Your condition limits your ability to work in a significant way.
Even if you have a qualifying disability, using drugs and alcohol may affect your claim for disability assistance. In determining if you have a disability that would be eligible for assistance, the SSA has to determine if your condition is materially affected by alcohol or drug use. This is known as DAA (Drugs and Alcohol Abuse) materiality. That is, if you stopped using drugs and drinking alcohol, would you still be considered disabled?
This is easier to evaluate in cases of physical disabilities as opposed to mental ones. In order to make this determination, the SSA would have to look over your medical records submitted with your application. You, as the applicant, have the burden of proof, and it is your responsibility to provide all the medical evidence that can show your disability is not materially affected by alcohol or drugs. If the SSA finds that the drug or alcohol use materially affects your condition, you cannot be considered disabled under the law. You would also be denied if your only claim to disability is the substance abuse.
In cases in which there is no period of abstinence from drug or alcohol use before the application, the SSA may rely on a medical expert’s opinion as to what effect abstinence would have on the applicant’s condition.
The SSA only makes this materiality determination if the applicant can be considered disabled based on a condition included in the listing of impairments, and there is medical evidence of substance abuse. If any other person seeking disability assistance has a history of substance abuse that pre-dates the length of time the SSA considers when looking at impairments, then the substance abuse would not be relevant.
Although you may prepare your own application for disability assistance, it is advisable to consult an attorney before submitting an application. A knowledgeable disability attorney can advise you on what to include in your application in order to receive a favorable outcome. In addition, since the decision often relies on evidence of medical history, you should work closely with your doctor in preparing the application.