A number of years ago, Congress passed a number of changes to the Social Security disability laws that made disability claimants ineligible for benefits if alcohol or drug abuse was a material contributing factor to their disability. As a result, most claimant’s lawyers are very reluctant to accept as clients individuals who are active alcoholics or whose doctors discuss in medical records abuse of narcotic medications.
Are there any circumstances when an alcoholic or drug abuser might still qualify for disability?
You may be surprised to learn that the answer to this question is “yes.” If the alcoholic or drug user can prove that he/she has a mental or physical condition that leaves that claimant unable to work, and that this other condition exists independently of the alcohol or substance abuse, he/she can win. In such a case, the claimant’ s disability would remain even if substance abuse was absent from the picture. Such a distinction can be difficult to prove, but it can be done, especially if the claimant has a long treatment record from a treating physician and that physician is prepared to go on record drawing those lines.
Similarly, I have won a couple of cases on behalf of alcoholics who have severe liver disease arising from drinking. In one case in particular, I remember seeing blood chemistry test results that clearly documented liver failure in an individual who continued to poison himself with alcohol despite the very negative health implications.
On the other hand, Social Security judges will look much more sympathetically on a case filed by an active alcoholic or drug abuser if the claimant is making a sincere effort to treat the addiction.
Jonathan Ginsberg represents Social Security disability claimants in Georgia. In practice for over 23 years, Jonathan publishes a widely known disability blog, a podcast and several disability web sites. In 2004, Jonathan published a "how to" book about Social Security disability called the Disability Answer Guide. Jonathan lives with his wife and 2 children in Atlanta.
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