You are still eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) if you have used alcohol or drugs, but if the Social Security Administration believes that your alcohol or drug use is a material contributing factor to your disability, it could deny your benefits on these grounds.
If you can make the case that your alcohol or drug use did not cause your condition and does not impact it, the SSA might not hold it against you. But like many issues that arise from SSDI and Supplementary Security Income (SSI) claims, alcohol and drug use has a lot of gray areas, and there is much room for the SSA to potentially deny you SSDI benefits.
How the SSA Decides if Your Alcohol or Drug Use Deems You Ineligible
For the SSA to decide if your alcohol or drug use invalidates your disability claim, it first must know about it. By that we mean mild or moderate alcohol or even marijuana use might fly under the SSA’s radar, because if you have no history of addiction, no drug-related arrests or DUIs, and no test results showing drug use, the SSA likely has no way of knowing.
But if the SSA does learn about your alcohol or drug use as it reviews your claim, it could present a challenge for you. Alcohol or drug use, even to the point of abuse or addiction, is not automatically disqualifying, but in certain cases it can lead to the SSA denying your claim.
To determine if your alcohol or drug use is disqualifying, the SSA seeks the answer to two questions.
Is Your Drug or Alcohol Use a Material Contributing Factor to Your Disability?
The SSA tries to determine if your alcohol or drug use contributes to your condition in a significant way. If the SSA determines that your substance use materially contributes to your condition, exacerbates it, or prevents it from improving, it will probably deem you ineligible to receive disability benefits.
Here is an example. You apply for disability based on major depression, but when the SSA reviews your claim, it sees that you have a long history of alcohol abuse, including multiple DUIs. After research, the SSA determines that your alcohol is a major contributing factor to your depression. It denies your claim by saying compensation will not improve your situation but treatment for your alcohol abuse will.
One distinction to keep in mind: If past alcohol or drug abuse contributed to your condition—for instance, cirrhosis of the liver—but your current use does not, you should be granted benefits.
Would Your Condition Improve if You Stopped Using Drugs or Alcohol?
The second question the SSA asks is would your condition improve if your drug or alcohol use stopped? If alcohol or drugs trigger the symptoms of your condition, and you do not experience symptoms when sober, the SSA considers your substance use a material contributing factor to your condition and will probably deny you disability.
On the other hand, if you and your attorney can make the case that quitting drugs or alcohol would not alleviate your disability, you should get approved, as you will have shown your substance use not to be a materially contributing factor to your impairment. This is true even if not using alcohol or drugs would clearly improve your health in other ways not related to your disability.
Who Gets the Final Say on Whether Your Alcohol or Drug Use Disqualifies You From Receiving Benefits?
When you first apply for benefits, the SSA leans on the opinion of an in-house doctor or medical consultant, who reviews your file and makes a determination. If your case gets denied and you appeal to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), the ALJ also has the option to have a doctor present at your hearing but is not required to defer to a medical expert or physician when making a final decision on your claim.
Call 866-628-8179 Today to Schedule a Free Consultation With a Social Security Disability Attorney
If you are applying for SSDI or SSI and have a history of alcohol or drug use, you should speak with a Social Security disability lawyer before filing your claim. You are still eligible for SSDI benefits if you have used alcohol or drugs. The Law Offices of Ogle, Elrod & Baril, PLLC is a dedicated team of disability attorneys who fight aggressively for the benefits you deserve
We offer a free, no-risk consultation to review your claim and discuss how we can help you.
To schedule a free consultation, call 866-628-8179.