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SSDI claim may be successful even with alcohol or drug use

It is important to know that a drug or alcohol addiction should not prevent you from applying for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income, known as SSDI and SSI, respectively. The existence of drug addiction and alcoholism, or DAA -- the official term the Social Security Administration uses -- triggers a particular analysis of your disability claim.

DAA disability analysis

The agency looks at all medically determinable impairments you have, including any DAA, to see if you meet the federal definition of disability. If your impairments are likely to last at least 12 months or result in death and prevent you from working, you would meet the definition, but if DAA is one of your medical problems, there is another step.

Is DAA material to disability?

The SSA at this point asks whether your DAA is a materially contributing factor to your disabling condition. (An exception is for one based on tobacco, which the agency does not analyze for materiality.) To answer this question, the SSA asks whether if you stopped using drugs and alcohol, would you still be disabled? If you would still be disabled, the DAA is not material and you would be eligible. If you would not still be disabled if you stopped your substance misuse, then you would not be eligible because DAA would be a material factor in the disability.

SSA is up front about its position that it does not judge people based on alcohol or drug addiction. Active substance use will not preclude you from SSDI or SSI eligibility so long as you meet all the other eligibility conditions, including that DAA is not a material factor in your disability.

Representative payee

Active drug or alcohol misuse, however, may trigger the question whether you would benefit from having the agency appoint a representative payee because you could be at risk of money mismanagement. A rep payee is someone who receives your money benefits and manages them for you in your best interest.

Related impairments

Finally, it is not uncommon for a medical condition to develop alongside a DAA or a DAA may cause another impairment. When the resulting condition would remain even if you stopped using, the impairment's connection to substance use does not prevent it from being the basis for disability. SSA gives these examples of such conditions:

  • Severe liver disease, including cirrhosis
  • Substance-induced amnesia or dementia
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • AIDS from needle sharing
  • Serious injuries from an alcohol- or drug-related vehicle accident
  • Permanent encephalopathy

This only introduces a complex legal and factual question in federal disability law. An attorney can answer your detailed questions. 

 

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