Slepian Smith, PLLC

Impact of SSDI and SSI claimants' alcohol and drug use

Social Security laws have changed over the years in how they treat alcoholism and drug addiction when determining whether disability prevents working for purposes of eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income, or SSDI and SSI, respectively.

Substance use cannot be material part of disability

Today, a claimant may not receive benefits if their disability is based completely on drug addiction and alcoholism, which the Social Security Administration calls DAA, or if DAA is a material contributing factor to the person's disability.

The DAAs evaluated for materiality exclude those involving tobacco addiction.

The SSA first looks at all a claimant's impairments, including any medically established DAA, to determine whether the person meets the federal definition of disability, which requires that a claimant have a medically determinable severe impairment or combination of impairments that prevents them from working and is expected to last at least 12 months or result in death.

If the person meets the definition of disability, the SSA looks at whether alcohol or drug use is a material part of the disability. It does this by asking if the claimant's remaining impairments would still be disabling if the claimant stopped using alcohol or drugs. If so, the claimant is eligible for SSDI or SSI because the DAA is not a material part of their disability.

Impairments caused by alcohol or drug misuse or addiction can be basis of claim

Alcohol or drug use causing a disabling medical condition or the impairment developing during a period of substance misuse does not disqualify a claimant. If such a medical condition is disabling and would continue whether or not the claimant is actively using alcohol or drugs, they would still be eligible.

Examples of such conditions that the agency recognizes include:

  • AIDS from intravenous drug injection
  • Disabling injury caused by a vehicle accident from drunk or drugged driving
  • Substance-induced dementia
  • Substance-induced amnesia
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Encephalopathy

Alcohol or drug use not fatal to claim

So long as a claimant is found disabled, they are not required to stop using alcohol or drugs to receive monetary benefits. However, ongoing DAA may prompt the SSA to require that the claimant have a representative payee to manage benefits on behalf of the claimant. The SSA appoints a rep payee when, for a variety of reasons, a claimant's condition prevents responsible money management in the person's self-interest.

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