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Can You Qualify for Drug and Alcohol Disability Benefits?

If you dabbled in illicit drugs or abused alcohol during your younger days, you likely know that you’re not alone.

In 2013, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that an estimated 9.4% of the population used an illicit drug within the last month. It was also reported that 10.9% of Americans over the age of 12 had driven under the influence of alcohol at least once within the past year.

Unfortunately, drug and alcohol use can often come at a steep physical and even mental health cost, whether directly causing injuries if you’re involved in an accident, aggravating chronic conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes, or even causing you to develop new ailments.

If you’re no longer able to hold down full-time employment due to disabilities caused by your drug or alcohol use, you may wonder whether or not you can qualify for benefits.

While Social Security Disability (SSD) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are available for drug and alcohol users in some situations, this is a nuanced and highly fact-specific area of the law. Read on to learn more about the laws, rules and regulations governing the issuance of federal disability benefits to illicit drug and alcohol users.


Can Drug Users Receive Social Security Disability Benefits? 


The relevant legislation and regulations state that those who are suffering disabilities of which drug or alcohol use was a major contributing factor may not qualify for benefits on this basis alone if they are still drinking or using illicit drugs.

One of the most common examples is an alcoholic who develops cirrhosis of the liver after years of heavy drinking. If it can be shown that this cirrhosis is solely due to the applicant’s drinking habits, and the applicant continues to drink, disability benefits are unlikely to be granted. 

However, if you have stopped abusing the substance and the symptom remains, you may qualify for benefits; someone who develops cirrhosis which does not remit despite a long period of sobriety may qualify for benefits. 

We have found that some illicit drugs may lead to psychosis or schizophrenia. If you are still using, it is unlikely you will obtain benefits, even though this is a severe impairment.  However, if there was a long medical history of psychosis before the use, or if you have been clean and sober for a year, but medical evidence shows you are still symptomatic despite counseling and medication, then you have a much better chance of obtaining benefits. 

Will You Qualify for SSD or SSI? 

Although the term Social Security Disability is often used as a catch-all to refer to both SSD and SSI benefits, these two benefit programs are very different in structure and function.

SSD is modeled after Social Security retirement benefits. In fact, the benefit amount you’re eligible to receive under the SSD program is based on your earnings record just like your Social Security Retirement. 

Because of this, the SSD program is available only to those who have worked and paid Social Security taxes for at least 40 quarters (usually around 10 years). There are some exceptions for younger workers who haven’t had the opportunity to build up this type of work history.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI), on the other hand, is available to anyone who is unable to work, has insufficient assets to support them and hasn’t built up the requisite number of quarters for SSD benefits.

SSI benefits are often provided to those with congenital birth defects that render them unable to hold down any type of full-time employment after turning 18, employees whose employers didn’t withhold Social Security taxes and others who, for whatever reason, aren’t eligible for SSD. 

SSI benefits are designed to provide a subsistence level of living, so they generally aren’t as generous as SSD benefits. SSI recipients will also need to sign an affidavit indicating their assets are below a certain dollar threshold. Those with higher asset levels will need to apwns down these assets.

What Will You Need to Prove to Receive Benefits? 

After filing a petition for SSD or SSI benefits, you may be notified of the Social Security Administration’s decision in the mail. In other cases, you’ll be called before an administrative law judge and asked to present your case to prove why you’re entitled to benefits.

In general, the burden of proving a disability lies on the person seeking the benefits; however, if the Social Security Administration wants to deny you benefits based on your drug or alcohol use, it will need to prove that this use is aggravating your conditions or that your conditions are entirely caused by your use of illicit or harmful substances.

If the SSA can’t fulfill this burden, your request for benefits will likely be granted if you’re able to show that you’re unable to work at any full-time employment and your continuing drug or alcohol use (if any) isn’t impacting your condition(s).

Those seeking SSD or SSI benefits can benefit from an experienced lawyer’s advice. Contact Glen Cook Social Security Attorney to schedule a consultation today.