The Effect of Drug and Alcohol Abuse on Disability Claims

If you are concerned about whether your use of drugs or alcohol will negatively affect the outcome of your claim, you’re not alone. This is a question on the minds of many applicants for Social Security Disability.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) may determine that your use of alcohol or drugs is the primary reason to deny your claim. However, it is possible to be awarded disability benefits despite an addiction. Whether or not the SSA denies your claim on the basis of your drug or alcohol abuse (DAA) depends on the nature of your alleged impairment(s). ‘

Material vs Immaterial
The question that SSA will consider is whether DAA is deemed a “material contributing factor” to your medical impairment. Materiality is determined by asking the question, “Is the disabling condition made worse, or even caused, by the abuse of alcohol or drugs?” If the answer is yes, your DAA will be considered material to your impairment and you may be found ineligible to receive benefits. This evaluation is called a DAA determination.

An example of a situation where DAA might be deemed immaterial to a claim would be in the case of degenerative disc disease. The impairment would continue to exist regardless of whether alcohol or drug abuse is involved. So, in certain cases, DAA may be considered irrelevant.

If your alleged disabling condition is psychiatric in nature, i.e., depression or anxiety, you will have a more difficult time proving your DAA is not a contributing factor to your mental impairment. Most medical professionals agree that even moderate alcohol use contributes to depression. The SSA will ask the question, “If you quit drinking or using drugs, will your medical condition improve?” More often than not, you will have to refrain from DAA to prove your impairment is disabling regardless of whether drugs or alcohol are involved. In determining materiality, examiners will look for a “sober date” or date when you became clean and sober. Medical doctors and therapists often cite “suspected use” in their medical records, and lab reports can be damaging pieces of evidence.

Since the materiality of drugs or alcohol use is a subjective concept, the SSA can and will use your usage of drugs or alcohol to deny you benefits. Therefore, is it best to abstain from drugs and/or alcohol during the period during which your claim is being evaluated — and afterwards, of course, in the interest of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.