In the past, drug addiction and alcoholism were treated as disabilities by the Social Security Administration. Now, the fact that you use drugs or drink alcohol can actually be the reason that you're denied benefits. Even if it doesn't cause your benefits to be denied, it will probably affect how your check is paid. This is what you need to know about the problem before you file for disability.
Your past drug or alcohol use isn't important.
This is important to note, because if your drug or alcohol use is all well in the past, it shouldn't affect your ability to receive benefits, even if one of those things caused your disability in the first place. For example, if you were a heavy drinker and the alcohol caused your liver to fail, leaving you on chronic dialysis, SSA won't penalize you. Similarly, if you now suffer from chronic organic brain syndrome because of your past drug use, you can still receive benefits.
Your current use of drugs or alcohol is very important.
The main question that SSA wants to know is whether or not your drug or alcohol use is a material factor that contributes to your disability. In other words, is your drug or alcohol use the sole cause of your disability? Is it making whatever other disabling conditions you have substantially worse? Would you get better if you stopped drinking or using drugs? Would you be better enough to hold a job?
If you just recently stopped using drugs or alcohol, that can cause your disability claim to be denied. SSA may want to wait to see if your condition continues once you've had time to physically and mentally recover.
The type disability you have can be an important factor.
If you have one or more physical disabilities that prevent you from working, you'll probably have an easier time qualifying for disability benefits than you will if you have a mental disability. Because drugs and alcohol affect the brain in so many different ways, it can be difficult even for medical professionals to determine what symptoms are caused by a mental disorder and what symptoms are caused by the substances you're ingesting.
For example, even something like organic brain syndrome can sometimes go away once drugs or alcohol are stopped. Substance abuse can also cause various other mental conditions, like psychosis, mood disorder, and anxiety disorder. It can also make existing mental conditions, like bipolar disorder, harder to manage.
Even a past history of drug or alcohol use can affect how your check is paid.
If you are approved for disability benefits, SSA has a responsibility to see that your benefits are used properly. Even if your drug or alcohol use is long past, they may require you to have a payee. A payee will receive your check for you and have the responsibility to see that your bills are paid. They're also responsible for keeping you from spending the money on more drugs or alcohol.
While drug or alcohol use isn't a total barrier to SSA benefits, it can make it more difficult to be approved. If you believe that your drug or alcohol use caused your claim to be denied unfairly, contact an attorney like those found at Cohen & Siegel LLP near you as soon as possible.