Can You Apply For Social Security Disability With An Alcohol Or Drug History?

The most difficult and complicated Social Security Disability claims to prepare for involving individuals who use illegal drugs or alcohol. 

Until 1996, the Social Security Administration (SSA) granted disability payments to applicants who satisfied the requirements for a drug use-related disability under the law. Payments for people granted Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits were stopped after the Contract with America Advancement Act removed drug and alcohol abuse (DAA) from the list of impairments. Your disability attorney can help you if you have a drug or alcohol history.

Can you apply for social security disability with an alcohol or drug history?

The SSA’s process manual states: 

If a claimant’s drug or alcohol abuse is a contributing element considered significant in concluding that the claimant is handicapped, we do not consider them to be disabled. In simple terms, you cannot get SSDI payments if the SSA considers your drug or alcohol usage while determining whether you fulfill the criteria of disability.

Evaluating Drug and alcohol use

Every disability case is evaluated by the SSA using a five-step sequential process, including those involving DAA. Let’s quickly go through that framework: 

Step-1: Is the applicant engaged in significant gainful activity (SGA)?

Step-2: Is there a severe disability with the applicant?

Step-3:  Does the serious impairment match or correspond to one on the SSA’s Listing of Impairments?

Step-4: Is the candidate capable of doing the relevant prior work?

Step-5: Can the candidate adjust to jobs common in the national economy? 

Making the DAA determination

Drug and alcohol misuse can only be considered for determining disability if there is verifiable medical proof that the claimant has an addictive substance use disorder (SUD).

The mere fact that you have consumed or are now using alcohol or drugs is insufficient to establish DAA. 

According to one interpretation of SSA policy, “Evidence that merely demonstrates the claimant’s drug or alcohol use does not establish the presence of a medically determinable Substance Use Disorder.”

Evaluating abuse of prescribed drugs

You may battle opioid dependency if you receive severe pain treatment with prescribed opioids. This happens commonly for claimants with catastrophic injuries or chronic illnesses like spinal stenosis, cancer, or ankylosing spondylitis. 

The SSA will view your dependency on the medicines as a side effect, and your application will not be examined for DAA if you are taking the medication as indicated, which means you are in a continuing provider-patient relationship and take your prescription at the appropriate dose and frequency.