The attorneys at RGG Law will inform you that the Social Security Administration does NOT recognize drug addiction or alcoholism as qualifying medical disorders for purposes of receiving disability benefits. While there was a time when such a diagnosis could form part of a viable disability claim, Congress amended the Social Security Act in 1996 to specifically forbid payments of disability benefits on this basis.
Indeed, a drug addiction or alcohol problem can be a problematic factor in getting a disability claim approved. If a person does have a valid medical condition but also has an unrelated drug addiction or alcohol problem, then the agency is supposed to try to distinguish between the two and identify the functional limitations that would remain if the person were clean and sober. Active substance abuse, however, can cause or worsen many of the disability symptoms which may be related to the legitimate medical problems a person has. This makes it difficult sometimes to separate the two. At best, drug and alcohol problems muddy the water in terms of determining if a person meets the legal definition to be found disabled.
Apart from this, it is a simple fact of human nature that many judges are negatively influenced by any history of substance abuse and may be less inclined to pay a case where this is present. Certainly substance abuse and truthfulness about it can be a credibility factor in a disability decision. While it is not impossible to win a disability claim with an RGG Law attorney where there is a substance abuse history, it is certainly much harder to win.
This can be a serious issue for a high percentage of those who apply for disability benefits. One study claims that as much as 50 percent of those with mental health problems have a substance abuse problem (past or current) and about half of those with substance abuse problems have some type of co-occurring mental health disorder. On the physical side, those with chronic pain sometimes turn to illicit means of controlling pain, such as marijuana, or “medicate” themselves with the use of alcohol. There is also a common problem with chronic pain patients who too often end up becoming addicted to narcotic pain medications and developing patterns of overuse or misuse of such medications.
The wisest plan, both for health purposes and legal purposes, is to abstain from any use of illegal drugs, any misuse of prescription medications, or any use of alcohol. Even though alcohol is a legal substance for those 21 and older, mixing alcohol with most prescription medications is unwise and potentially dangerous. In any event, it is hard to fault a claimant who avoids all such substances.
If a person already has a substance abuse history, an RGG Law attorney will recommend going forward is to abstain and remain compliant with treatment. By demonstrating a period of sobriety and compliance during which underlying medical problems obviously remain and cause functional limitations, a claimant can sometimes convince a judge that they were medically disabled even during periods when their substance abuse was active.
Because substance abuse is often documented in medical records, there is no real way to hide it. What is more, because credibility is such an important issue in a disability claim, it only makes sense to be as honest as possible about the use of drugs and alcohol. Many judges respect and admire frank and open admissions regarding substance abuse history or even current addictions. In the right situation, such admissions are a unique opportunity to show integrity and honesty which may help win your case. Honesty truly is the best policy, and the attorneys at RGG Law stick to that.
A person with a serious addiction can rarely overcome such challenges on their own. It is important, therefore, to seek appropriate professional help for treatment or rehabilitation. Getting such help demonstrates a commitment to avoid drugs and alcohol and often provides the tools to keep you on track, both for the sake of your disability claim with RGG Law and your personal well-being.