3.5 Substance Abuse


Abuse hope patients hand holding

Under the law, the Social Security Administration (SSA) must evaluate whether drug addiction or alcoholism is a “contributing factor” that is “material” to the claimant’s disability. In other words, if a claimant’s substance abuse or dependence either causes the disability or makes the other impairment(s) worse to the point of disability, then SSA will deny the claim.

When a claimant has a substance use disorder, SSA first determines if the claimant is disabled. If the claimant is disabled, then SSA must decide whether the individual would be able to go back to work if he or she stopped using drugs or alcohol. If the evidence shows that the claimant would be able to work if he or she stopped drugs or alcohol, then SSA will issue a denial and no benefits will be paid. It is important to note that this issue does not apply to situations where the claimant is taking medication as prescribed by his or her doctor.

Substance addiction disorders (drug or alcohol addictions) are not considered to be mental disabilities for purposes of Social Security Disability or SSI. As such, Social Security can’t find you disabled if your disabling symptoms only appear when you are abusing substances. If your substance addiction makes a mental disorder worse, the addiction will not necessarily disqualify you from eligibility, so long as the symptoms from your mental disorder independently prevent you from being able to work. In these situations, despite a substance addiction disorder, you may still qualify for benefits.

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