It’s no secret – disability benefits can be difficult to obtain. The Social Security Administration (SSA) routinely rejects claims and the appeals process can be a lot to handle. Some people may not even apply for them to begin with, out of fear they will be rejected. This is particularly true for those who have abused alcohol or drugs, but using them does not automatically preclude you from receiving benefits.
The drug and alcohol abuse determination
Drug addiction and alcoholism, by themselves, are not considered disabilities for the purpose of receiving benefits. If this is the only condition an applicant has, neither SSDI nor SSI will be available to them. But it is also true that drug addiction and alcoholism do not preclude someone from receiving benefits. Instead, the SSA conducts a drug and alcohol abuse (DAA) determination to conclude whether the applicant is eligible.
When the SSA does their determination, what they’re looking for is whether a disability exists independent of the drug or alcohol usage. They want to know whether the drugs or alcohol are substantially contributing to the underlying disability. If the applicant stopped using, and the disability continued, then it is independent and the applicant is still eligible for benefits. If the applicant stopped using and the disability went away, then the drugs or alcohol will be considered a significant contributor to the disability and benefits will be denied.
It’s important to note that, when the SSA makes their determination, they are only interested in the current condition of the applicant. Past usage of alcohol or drugs is not relevant. For instance, an applicant could have abused alcohol heavily in the past, causing liver failure. The liver failure can be the disability which requires them to seek benefits. Even if they were still using alcohol, if they stopped immediately it would make no difference – the liver would still be damaged, the disability would still exist and the applicant could still receive disability benefits.