Drug Addiction and Alcoholism and Social Security Disability

Before 1996, if you had a drug or alcohol addiction, then you could get Social Security Disability because of your addiction. Addiction was your disability!

The current law is the “Senior Citizen’s Right to Work Act of 1996” that eliminated Drug and Alcohol Addiction as a basis for Disability. The Act says that individuals are not disabled if the drug and alcohol addiction is a contributing factor to the individual’s disability.

That is to say that if your disability would exist in the absence of drug and alcohol abuse, then you can properly be found disabled. If, on the other hand, your drug and alcohol addiction contributes to your disability, then the Social Security Administration will find you not disabled.

If there is evidence in your file of a drug or alcohol problem, then the Social Security Administration has to determine whether your disability would stand alone or whether your drug and alcohol addiction adds to your disability. This is an especially difficult task when there are psychological impairments involved.

According to the National Institutes for Health 25.2 million people suffer from chronic pain. Chronic pain is a serious condition and affects the quality of life for those who endure it. Opioids are regularly prescribed to manage pain.

Opioid pain medication includes: oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and fentanyl. According to the American Association of Addiction Medicine, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States in 2015 with 20,101 overdose deaths from prescription pain medication. Over 2 million people are addicted to prescription painkillers! Thus, chronic pain and addiction can go hand in hand.

To figure out how your drug and alcohol addiction has or has not contributed to your disability, the Social Security Administration will look at periods of abstinence and compare the physical and psychological findings during that time and during a period when you were using. If there is no point of abstinence, get a statement from a treating physician explaining how your drug and alcohol addiction does not contribute to your disability.

If you became addicted to pain medication that was prescribed for chronic pain, an injury, or other illness and you are applying for Social Security Disability, then your medical records should reflect that you are unable to work because of your diagnosed impairments and not solely because you are addicted to your pain medication.

*This article is not intended as legal advice. If you are applying for disability benefits, it is recommended that you seek the counsel of an attorney.*