According to a Report from the Open Society Foundation, an estimated nearly 24 million Americans are addicted to alcohol and/or drugs and “drug use is on the rise.” It’s well known that drug and alcohol addiction can both cause and result from disabling medical impairments. When the Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates a claim for Social Security Disability benefits, the Agency treats disabling impairments resulting from use of illicit drugs and alcohol differently than it does other conditions.
Social Security’s rules on cases involving drug addiction and alcoholism state that a claimant “shall not be considered to be disabled if alcoholism or drug addiction would be a contributing factor material to the Commission’s determination that the individual is disabled.” In plain language, this means that a claimant’s medical condition must be disabling in the absence of drug or alcohol use.
For example, if a claimant has a documented history of alcohol abuse during the alleged period of disability, but can show that his or her depression was not caused or exacerbated by claimant’s alcoholism, (s)he may be able to qualify for disability benefits under SSA’s rules. If, alternatively, a claimant’s drug or alcohol abuse is found to be a “material” “contributing factor” to his or her disability, the claimant will likely be found not disabled under SSA’s rules.
If SSA is unable to determine whether one’s mental illness leads to drug/alcohol use or whether drugs/alcohol cause a claimant’s mental illness, Social Security regulations require that the Administration find in favor of the Claimant.
While Social Security’s rules allow for disability findings in certain situations where drug and alcohol use are in play, in practice, active drug and alcohol use and abuse can be fatal to a claimant’s case for disability benefits. Simply put, while many judges are sympathetic to former drug and alcohol abusers who have a proven history of sobriety, they are often unwilling to place active drug or alcohol users on the disability rolls.
This sentiment applies to Marijuana use and abuse, as well. While, just yesterday, former Attorney General Eric Holder came out in support of reclassifying marijuana from a Schedule I substance (the most dangerous category for drugs with no medical use) to a less restrictive category, and while public perception of Marijuana use in the US appears to be changing, nevertheless, the SSA continues to penalize claimants with non-medically prescribed Marijuana use. This is true even where such “self-help” really does provide relief of one’s medical conditions. An important exception is that marijuana prescribed by a medical provider should be treated as is any other medical treatment.
At Silver & Silver, we’ll help you determine whether you meet the SSA’s definition of disability and advise you on steps to take to present your strongest case to the SSA. Contact us today for a free consultation.