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Drug and alcohol abuse seems to be rampant in the United States.  And if you have a pending social security disability claim and you are abusing these substances, you are not only poisoning your body;  you are poisoning your social security disability case.

Social security regulations provide that disability benefits will not be paid when someone is disabled because of drug and alcohol abuse.  Put another way: if drug and/or alcohol abuse is present, the claimant cannot be disabled if their disability would cease when the drug and alcohol abuse ceased.  The classic example of that of the chronic alcoholic with severe cirrhosis of the liver.  This person with end-stage liver failure may have hepatic encephalopathy, swelling of the abdomen (ascites), profound fatigue and bleeding from varices.  I am shocked how many I have seen in this condition that continue to drink.   Yet the alcohol abuse will not get in the way of securing disability benefits: the damage is done.  Ceasing alcohol abuse may prolong this person’s life, but they will never be able to work again.

The prohibition (maybe poor word choice?) in granting disability benefits to those disabled because of drug and alcohol abuse goes back to  the 1996 Contract with America Advancement Act.  Prior to this act  persons whose sole severe disabling condition was drug addiction or alcoholism were eligible to receive monthly cash  if they were unable to work because of their addictions BUT ONLY IF they were found unable to control their substance abuse.  I was handling social security disability cases back before the 1996 complete prohibition against disability benefits for drug and alcohol abuse.  I can tell you as a practical matter that disability benefits were rarely granted to drug and alcohol abuse because judges would typically find the substance abuser could control their addiction.

Most claimants filing for disability that I have seen who are abusing drugs and alcohol are not disabled because of the substance abuse. Usually it is part of their problems, probably makes them worse, and is in response to the stress of their situation.

But substance abuse creates a significant issue that the judge must look at: what role does the substance abuse play in the disability claim. In the back of every judge’s mind is the understandable concern: if I grant this case will the benefits simply be used to abuse drugs and alcohol? No judge wants to be this kind of “enabler”.

If you are abusing drugs and/or alcohol and have filed for disability benefits know this:

  1. You will not be able to hide it from social security. More than likely it is a part of the medical records;
  2. The fact that you may have a “dual diagnosis” (mental health diagnosis plus substance abuse), or that you are “self-medicating” will not protect you from a denial due to your substance abuse;
  3. You need to enter treatment if you are abusing substances. Period. You may be able to quit on your own, but you need more proof than just your word that you have “turned it around”.