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Will Substance Abuse Sink a Disability Claim?

January 31, 2022 Disability

Millions of Americans struggle with some form of substance abuse disorder, including those involving drugs, alcohol, and prescription medications. These addictions can take a significant toll on the sufferer’s health. While substance abuse can also compromise the user’s employment prospects, substance abuse alone is not a qualifying condition for Social Security benefits. This leads many would-be claimants to forgo applying for benefits under the assumption that any current or former substance abuse will bar their claim. However, this is not necessarily the case, as a Baltimore SSD attorney explains. 

The Social Security Administration’s Rule on Substance Abuse

The general rule is that substance abuse itself is not considered a disability for Social Security Administration (SSA) purposes. However, drug use alone will not necessarily sink a claim for disability benefits. Rather, the SSA looks to whether drug addiction or alcoholism is a contributing factor material to the determination of disability. The key issue in determining whether drug use or alcoholism is a contributing factor material to a disability is whether the claimant would still be disabled if he or she stopped using drugs or alcohol. If the remaining conditions would not be disabling, the SSA will find that the substance abuse is a contributing factor. If the remaining conditions would be disabling regardless of the substance abuse, the SSA will find that the substance abuse is not a contributing factor. 

Conditions Caused by Substance Abuse

While you may not be eligible for disability benefits based on drug abuse or alcoholism alone, you may nonetheless qualify if you suffer another mental or physical impairment that was caused by substance abuse. This can occur even if you have not used drugs or alcohol for years; in many cases, the mental and physical damage from prolonged substance abuse does not manifest until much later. Several drug- and alcohol-related conditions are covered in the SSA’s Blue Book, and thus may qualify the sufferer for benefits. These include: 

  • Neurological disorders
  • Liver damage, including cirrhosis 
  • Hepatitis B and C
  • Gastritis
  • Pancreatitis 
  • Peripheral neuropathy 
  • Seizures
  • Depression and anxiety 
  • Lung disease
  • Cardiovascular disease 

Ongoing Substance Abuse

If you are using drugs or alcohol at the time you apply for Social Security disability benefits, the same rules apply — your claim will be denied only if your drug or alcohol use is a contributing factor to your disability. To prove that your drug or alcohol use is not a contributing factor to your disability, you will need to show either (1) your condition would not be alleviated if you stopped using drugs or alcohol, and/or (2) your drug or alcohol use is merely is a result of your disabling condition, rather than the other way around. 

Contact a Baltimore SSD Attorney for Help with Your Claim

Current drug use or a history of drug use can complicate a claim for Social Security disability benefits. If you suspect that substance abuse may be an issue in your claim, you may want to consider hiring an attorney. To get started, please contact Baltimore SSD attorney Emmett B. Irwin by calling 443-839-0818 or using our online contact form.