If You Struggle with Drugs or Alcohol, How Does It Impact Your Social Security Disability Claim?

Many people think that alcoholism or drug addiction on their own can qualify as health impairments for the purposes of getting Social Security Disability benefits.

This is a common misconception.

Long ago, it was true that you could qualify for disability benefits with drug or alcohol addiction as your primary ailment. But the rules have changed.

Substance abuse can still be a part of your disability claim, but it also can hurt your claim.

In this Geary Disability Law blog post, I’ll explain how to present alcohol and drug struggles in a way that protects your chances of being approved for disability benefits.

There are three major questions to consider.

Question #1: Is Drug Addiction or Alcoholism a Contributing Factor in Your Disability?

When you’re applying for Social Security Disability and you list alcohol or drug abuse as a factor, Social Security will first consider whether they would still find you to have a disability if you stopped using drugs or alcohol.

The law requires Social Security to look at medical evidence of your substance abuse and decide how addiction contributes to the disability that makes you eligible for benefits. (20 C.F.R. § 416.935)

If your underlying health limitations, even without drinking or drug use, would still leave you unable to work, your chances of winning benefits are higher.

But there are two major ways that drug and alcohol abuse can hurt your claim.

Question #2: Are Mental Health Impairments an Important Part of Your Disability Claim?

Mental health problems can be at the core of your claim for disability benefits.

But because drug and alcohol problems are intertwined with mental health, disability claims for mental health can be hurt by drug use.

A Social Security claims examiner or disability judge who reviews your case for benefits might decide that if you quit using substances, the key mental health condition your application is based on would improve, so you wouldn’t need benefits.

On the other hand, claims based on physical limitations generally aren’t as impacted by drug and alcohol abuse.

But substance abuse issues can be a threat to any kind of Social Security Disability application, even one for physical ailments, if you suffer from a loss of believability to other people over your addiction problems.

Are You Able To Make a Believable Case for Social Security Disability?

Abuse of drugs and alcohol often undermines disability claims for the simple reason that many people fail to be truthful or credible when they discuss their drug and alcohol use.

It’s understandable to feel uncomfortable discussing such personal issues openly, but failing to be frank about your addiction problems can lead a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) to disbelieve other things you say at your disability hearing.

When I prepare my clients to testify before judges, we go over how to discuss drug and alcohol issues.

Fortunately, ALJs generally are good about not being too judgmental of people’s substance abuse.

So if you have such a problem, they won’t hold it against you as long as all of your medical and mental health conditions otherwise qualify you for benefits.

But if you fail to truthfully and accurately describe your ongoing drug and alcohol struggle, the judge will likely use this against you at the hearing. They can often tell based on reports from doctors and other information in your file whether you’re being fully honest.

It’s important to explain all aspects of your case—your status with drugs and alcohol and everything else—in an honest manner.

Navigating a Social Security Disability claim when drug and alcohol problems are part of the picture is a highly sensitive task.

An experienced disability attorney who knows the thousands of rules that apply to Social Security Disability benefits can help you present yourself properly. And you never pay a fee for a disability lawyer until you win benefits.

In Appleton, Green Bay, across the Fox Valley and Northeast Wisconsin, get guidance from Geary Disability Law.

Written by Tim Geary.

Disclaimer: Blog entries are not intended to be a substitute for actual legal advice. It is important for a representative to understand the specific facts and circumstances of your case before they can provide you actual legal advice. If you have questions about your Social Security Disability benefits, please contact a qualified representative to discuss your case.

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