social security disability and alcoholism

Does Addiction or Alcoholism Qualify for Social Security Disability?

Drug addiction and alcoholism are terrible diseases that can wreak havoc on your body. Both can also take a serious toll on your mental well-being. Unfortunately, anyone with a substance abuse disorder may have difficulty holding down full-time employment. But is that enough to qualify you for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits? The short answer is, probably not. There’s a lot of confusion around this topic, since marijuana’s now legal in several states. Let’s look at what the Social Security Administration’s policies say about disability applicants with drug addiction or alcoholism issues.

Advice for Disability Applicants in Recovery for Drug Addiction or Alcoholism

A Disability Determination Services (DDS) doctor could determine your health issues result from substance abuse or alcoholism. An example of this might be cirrhosis of the liver, which is a medical condition commonly associated with alcoholism. For disability applicants in recovery, this can make getting approved for SSD benefits more difficult. Showing evidence of your sobriety in any medical records you submit along with your claim is absolutely crucial. This way, you’ll show you are no longer dependent on drugs or alcohol, despite still suffering some disabling symptoms.

That said, the SSA won’t automatically deny your claim because you have a history of alcoholism or substance abuse. The key thing to know is that neither alcoholism nor drug addiction count as qualifying disabilities. And there are some conditions that result from alcohol or substance use that the SSA won’t hold against you. These include things like fetal alcohol syndrome, fetal cocaine exposure and addiction to prescription medications taken exactly as your doctor prescribes.

SSA Guidelines for Evaluating Disability Claims That Involve Drug Use or Alcoholism

The SSA issued its SSR 13-2p policy in 2013. This policy explains how to evaluate SSD claims where addiction or alcoholism are “a contributing factor material to the determination of disability.” The claim review process includes these six questions:

  1. Does the claimant suffer from drug addiction or alcoholism? If the answer’s “no,” skip the remaining questions. If “yes,” move on to question #2.
  2. Do your combined impairments (including drug addiction or alcoholism) meet the SSA’s definition of “disabled?” If “no,” the SSA denies your disability claim. If “yes,” move on to question #3.
  3. Is drug addiction or alcoholism your only disabling impairment? If drug addiction or alcoholism is the sole reason you can’t work, your claim’s denied. For “no” answers, move on to question #4.
  4. Do your other impairments meet the SSA’s definition of “disabled” while excluding the effects of your drug or alcohol dependency? If “yes,” move on to question #5. If “no,” your disability claim’s denied.
  5. Does substance abuse cause your other health issues (or make them worse)? If the answer’s “no,” then you may get approved. A “yes” answer is more complicated. Some conditions are impossible to recover from enough for you to ever work again. (For example: Stage IV pancreatic cancer.) In such cases, a “yes” answer won’t get your claim denied. But if the answer’s “yes” and drugs or alcohol make your conditions worse, move on to question #6.
  6. Would your health improve enough for you to work again if you stopped drinking or doing drugs? If the answer’s “yes,” then the SSA denies your claim. Otherwise, you’ve met all requirements to approve your application for disability benefits.

What About Disability Applicants Living in “Legalization” States?

Now, you might wonder whether legal marijuana use hurts your chances for getting disability benefits in one of these states:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Vermont
  • Washington, D.C.

The fact is, you do not have to pass a drug test in order to qualify for Social Security disability. Whether in states listed above or where medical marijuana is legal, it likely won’t impact your claim. Worried that people addicted to marijuana in these states can now draw SSD benefits because they’re too lazy to work? A recent study found the SSA receives about 2.4 more disability claims for every 10,000 eligible adults in those states. About 576 more people applied for disability benefits the year after Colorado legalized recreational use than in the previous year. However, the number of average approved claims did not go up in those states once recreational use became legal.

If you live in a legalization state, talk to a Social Security attorney before filing your disability claim. The fact is, federal law always overrules state law when it comes to substance use. And while this issue doesn’t affect alcoholics, it could impact claims from cancer patients prescribed MMJ for pain management.

Luckily, you can sign up for free legal assistance and an attorney will call to discuss your claim. You don’t have to leave your house to get confidential, personalized claim help. This legal assistance is free and doesn’t obligate you to do anything else. But it’s an important first step towards you qualifying for Social Security disability. In addition, filing your disability application with legal assistance triples your approval chances for benefits. If a lawyer can’t get your claim approved, then you owe $0 in legal fees. And if you do win, then you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee.

Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free online benefits evaluation now:

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Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity,, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.