Substance Abuse and Social Security Disability

suffering from medical condition and substance abuseSuffering from a medical condition can be physically, mentally and financially demanding, causing some individuals to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with their symptoms and limitations. However, substance abuse may stand as a barrier between applicants being able to receive Social Security Disability benefits. 

Below, our attorneys at Sigman Janssen discuss how drug addiction and alcoholism may affect a disability claim. If you need help filing a claim or have already received a denial notice, learn how we may be able to help during a free, no-obligation legal consultation. Many applicants are initially denied disability, but you may still be eligible for benefits.

How Substance Abuse Affects a Disability Claim

The Social Security Administration (SSA) cannot refuse to review a disability claim because an individual has a history of alcoholism or drug addiction. However, in certain cases, the continued use of drugs or alcohol could be grounds to deny a claim.

Abusing drugs or alcohol can lead to serious medical conditions and negatively impact your health. It can cause or contribute to heart disease, liver failure, nerve damage, personality disorders, among other health issues. Yet, many applicants may have medical conditions independent of their substance abuse.

The SSA will need to review your claim to assess how your addiction affects your medical condition. If your drug or alcohol use is seen as irrelevant to your condition, you may qualify for disability benefits. On the other hand, if your substance abuse is seen to cause or worsen your condition, you may be disqualified.

Ways the SSA Assesses Drug and Alcohol Use

The SSA uses a six-step process, otherwise known as a drug addiction and alcoholism (DAA) evaluation, to determine whether you may qualify for disability benefits.

  • Is DAA involved in the case? A record of your past and current substance abuse will be taken into consideration. If you have suffered or continue to suffer drug or alcohol abuse, the case moves to step two. There is likely to be a DAA evaluation if the applicant is using illicit or prescription drugs, such as opioids, depressants and stimulants (unless taken as prescribed).
  • Do your impairments, including your DAA, qualify you as disabled? If you fail to meet the SSA’s definition of a disability, despite your drug and alcohol abuse, your claim will be denied. If you are deemed disabled, the case will move forward to step three.
  • Is your drug addiction or alcoholism the only impairment? Drug addiction or alcoholism cannot be your sole disabling condition. If it is, you will not qualify for disability benefits. You must have a physical or mental condition in addition to DAA for the case to move forward to the next step.
  • Are your non-DAA impairments disabling on their own, or are they disabling due to the DAA? If your physical or mental impairments are only disabling because of your substance abuse, the DAA will be considered material and your disability claim will likely be denied.
  • Does the DAA affect or cause your impairments? If the answer is no, DAA is considered irrelevant and will not factor into the SSA’s final decision.  
  • Would your impairments be non-disabling if you did not currently suffer from DAA? The sixth step is arguably the most important. The SSA will evaluate whether you would still be disabled if your condition were to improve after you stopped using drugs or alcohol.

An Appleton-based Social Security Disability lawyer is ready to help guide you through this process. We know what it takes to establish that your condition is independent of your drug or alcohol use.

Being Appointed a Representative Payee

If you are approved for disability benefits but the SSA believes you are unable to responsibly manage your finances due to your drug or alcohol use, you may be required to have a representative payee.

The SSA will issue your disability payments to the representative payee, who will be in charge of these funds and prevent you from spending the funds on drugs or alcohol. This individual could be a family member, such as a parent, a friend, someone you trust or a qualified organization.

Schedule a Free Consultation to Get Started

Applicants who work with a lawyer may have a greater chance at being approved for disability benefits than those who do not. Our firm is here to offer advice and answer any questions about Social Security Disability, such as how one is notified after a benefits decision and the first step of the appeals process

An initial consultation is free of charge and confidential. There is no obligation or upfront fee involved.

Reach out today by calling (877) 888-5201.