How to file for disability, Filing for SSI
Disability Requirements, Disability Status
How long is the wait?, Disability Application
The Social Security List of Impairments
Qualifying for Disability, Mental Disability
Disability Lawyer Info, Disability Back Pay

Social Security Disability Benefits and Drug and Alcohol Use

First off, it should be stated that drug and alcohol use are not a basis for the approval of disability. This is simply a common myth. In actuality, when drug and alcohol use, or abuse, surface in medical records or through the admission of a claimant when they file for disability, the effect on the claim can be negative.

Objectively, for Social Security Disability examiners, the question is whether or not substance use is material or immaterial to the case being decided. To use a broad example, if an individual has a condition and the severity of that condition is independent of substance use, then it is completely immaterial, i.e. not relevant to the case.

To use a more specific example, if an individual is an alcohol consumer and has a liver condition, even one that was caused at least in part by the alcohol consumption, but the condition would not improve even if the alcohol consumption ceased, then the alcohol consumption is immaterial. It would be material to the case if the judgement was made that the person's liver condition would improve with cessation of alcohol consumption.

Here is another way of discussing materiality and how it affects disability claims.

DAA (drug and alcohol use and abuse) materiality can have a negative impact on the claims of those filing for Social Security Disability (SSD) or supplemental security income (SSI). What is DAA materiality? The term refers to an individual's use of drugs or alcohol and the issue of whether or not an individual's state of disability would actually exist minus the use of these drugs. The problem with DAA materiality, of course, is not whether a person has used substances in the past, but whether or not the individual is continuing to use them and whether or not the individual's limitations would abate if the use was stopped.

For this reason, it may not be a good idea to mention past drug or alcohol use in your disability application, as a disability examiner may seize upon this information and use it as an excuse to deny benefits. Even if your medical records indicate only that you drink socially, or that you admit to past substance abuse, DDS (the disability determination services agency, a state agency that decides all Social Security Disability claims) may determine that you are in some way contributing to your impairment and limitations.

For example, if you have a condition like schizophrenia or an affective disorder such as bipolar disorder, Social Security may consider that the severity of your condition has been influenced by substance use.

Even if the disability examiner does not consider the occasional use of alcohol or past substance abuse (even trying marijuana as a teenager) to be a contributing factor to your disability, there is such a culture of claims denial throughout DDS that it is possible that someone (the examiner’s supervisor or the doctor or psychologist assigned to the unit) may assign greater-than-due-significance to the mention of substance use.

This may be especially true if you are filing for disability on the basis of a mental impairment. Mental conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder have been linked to alcohol or drug use, and several studies have shown that the abuse of alcohol or drugs can worsen symptoms associated with these types of illnesses.

On average, DDS denies 7 out of 10 disability applications, and more than 8 out of 10 first Social Security Disability appeals. These statistics point to the inevitable conclusion that, often, it doesn’t take much to get turned down for disability. Given the fact that claimants are under no legal obligation to report past substance abuse, it may be best to forgo mentioning it altogether if you hope to qualify for disability.

Regardless of whether you are filing for SSD or SSI for a physical or mental impairment, consider carefully before you mention alcohol and drug use on your Social Security Disability application or on your request for reconsideration appeal paperwork (this first appeal is decided within DDS, the same agency that decided the initial application, which is why most first Social Security Disability appeals are unsuccessful).

Essential Questions

What is the Social Security Disability SSI list of impairments?

Can you work while getting or applying for Disability?

How Often Does Social Security Approve Disability The First Time You Apply?

Tips for getting Social Security Disability or SSI benefits approved

What medical conditions will get you approved for disability?

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Receiving a Disability Award Letter

Conditions Social Security will recognize as a disability

Previously answered questions regarding SSD and SSI

Applying for disability in your state

Most popular topics on SSDRC.com

Social Security Disability SSI Questions

The listings, list of disabling impairments

Can a mental illness qualify you for disability?

Disability Lawyers prevent unnecessary denials

How much Social Security Disability SSI back pay?

How to apply for disability for a child or children

Filing a Social Security Disability SSI application

Filing for disability - when to file

How to apply for disability - where to apply

Qualifications for disability benefits

How to Prove you are disabled and Win your Disability Benefits

Qualifying for Disability - The Process

How to get disability for depression

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SSI disability for children with ADHD

What is the Application Process for Social Security Disability and SSI?

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Related pages:

Filing the application for disability benefits
Application process for both Social Security Disability and SSI
Where to apply for disability benefits
If your disability is denied
You may apply for disability for any condition

These pages provide answers to basic questions about pursuing disability benefits

Disability qualifications - Who will qualify is based on functional limitations
What do you Need to Prove to Qualify for Disability Benefits?
What conditions do they Award Disability Benefits for?
How does back pay for Social Security Disability work?
What makes you eligible for Social Security Disability or SSI? Part I
To get a Social Security Disability or SSI Award do you have to have a Permanent Disability?
Social Security Disability Status - when should I call to check
Do Lawyers Improve The Chances of Winning Social Security Disability or SSI?
What is qualifying for disability based on?
How to qualify for disability - The Process of Qualifying for Benefits
Receiving a Social Security Disability Award Letter
How long does it take to get disability?
Filing and applying for disability in Texas

For the sake of clarity, SSDRC.com is not the Social Security Administration, nor is it associated or affiliated with SSA. This site is a personal, private website that is published, edited, and maintained by former caseworker and former disability claims examiner, Tim Moore, who was interviewed by the New York Times on the topic of Social Security Disability and SSI benefits in an article entitled "The Disability Mess" and also by the Los Angeles Times on the subject of political attempts to weaken the Social Security Disability system.

The goal of the site is to provide information about how Social Security Disability and SSI work, the idea being that qualified information may help claimants pursue their claims and appeals, potentially avoiding time-consuming mistakes. If you find the information on this site helpful and believe it would be helpful to others, feel free to share links to its homepage or other pages on website resource pages, blogs, or social media. Copying of this material, however, is prohibited.

To learn more about the author, please visit the SSDRC.com homepage and view the "about this site" link near the bottom of the page.