The use of substances such as drugs and alcohol can cause an array of health conditions, many of which cannot be reversed by abstaining from substances. For chronic substance abusers, it’s likely that at some point there will be medical problems caused by prolonged use. While an individual cannot receive Social Security disability for substance abuse alone, the conditions caused by abuse can be eligible for benefits.
Below, we dive deeper into what it means to apply for disability benefits as a user of substances.
Basic Eligibility & Health Conditions for Disability
The Social Security Administration (SSA) looks for several basic requirements to ensure you meet the criteria for disability benefits. This includes the following:
- You are not to be earning $1,260 or more each month from working
- Your health condition must be expected to last at least one year
- Your condition must have a severe impact on your ability to work
As of 2018, addiction is no longer considered a condition – however, it’s still possible to qualify for benefits with any of the following impairments, some of which can be side effects of substance abuse:
- Anxiety Disorder
- Personality Disorder
- Brain damage (Neurocognitive Disorder)
- Liver damage
- Peripheral Neuropathy
Impact of Substance Abuse on Disability Claims
If a person’s drug or alcohol abuse is considered a “material contributing factor,” meaning it exacerbates or even causes the condition and could not be reversed if they stopped using, it’s likely the claim will not be granted. This evaluation is called a drug and alcohol abuse (DAA) determination. That said, if the claimant has an unrelated medical condition that is not made worse by DAA, then they would still be eligible regardless of substance use.
The question of whether the impairment would improve if drugs or alcohol were removed from the picture is an important factor. If it’s medically proven by a doctor that the person’s medical condition would be eliminated if the substance abuse were to end, the claimant would not be awarded benefits on that condition. This would be considered “material” to the claim.
Ongoing Drug or Alcohol Abuse
If you’ve been diagnosed with drug or alcohol addiction by a medical professional, the SSA cannot hold this against you for claims that are unrelated to substance abuse. Similarly, if the SSA finds that quitting drugs or alcohol would not improve your condition, you could still be granted disability. For example, if a person with thyroid cancer had this condition prior to their abuse of prescription pills and it’s proven that substance abuse is irrelevant to the disease, the person could still receive disability benefits.
If you win a disability claim but the SSA feels you are still abusing substances, they will not only refer you to an abuse treatment program but also require you to have a “representative payee.” A representative payee can be an individual such as a friend or family member, or it can be a qualified organization. They will be in charge of the money received from the SSA to ensure that you don’t spend it on your addiction.
Contact a Disability Attorney
Whether you are in recovery or still suffering from addiction, it’s best to work with both medical professionals and experienced Social Security disability attorneys to ensure you have the proper medical records and other documentation to support your claim. To speak with our lawyers at Woodruff & Mathis about Social Security disability for substance abuse, please request an appointment today.