Facts about Alcoholism and Filing for Disability
These selected pages answer some of the most basic, but also some of the most important, questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim for disability benefits.
Facts about the condition
1) Alcoholism is when the body is physically dependent upon alcohol. It has been described as a condition, an uncontrollable craving, an addiction, and a chronic disease. In essence, it is a dependency upon alcohol to function, and regardless of the negative effects it may have on one's life (losing a home, marriage or job, or becoming severely ill or depressed), the person affected cannot stop drinking. If they try to stop they experience withdrawal symptoms.
2) One must drink alcohol to develop alcoholism, though the amount and frequency vary with each person. It is thought that nearly 90 percent of all American adults consume alcohol, and nearly 700,000 of them seek help for alcoholism through treatment.
3) Alcoholism can cause immense effects in one's life; it affects the sufferers mental health, physical health and causes social problems. Physically it can cause liver disease, heart disease, epilepsy, sexual dysfunction and even death. Mentally it can cause a host of depression and anxiety disorders, as well as psychosis.
4) Alcoholism is the second leading cause of dementia in Western countries.
5) Although it is quite rare for people to die from cocaine or heroin withdrawal unless they already have preexisting severe health concerns, it is not uncommon for people, even healthy people, to die from alcohol withdrawal. Withdrawal can cause seizures, damage to nerve cells, trembling, shaking and death.
6) Detoxification and therapy, along with some medications, can help treat those with alcoholism. Some programs use abstinence for alcoholics, while others use management techniques such as moderation and rationing. However, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has reported: "Abstinence represents the most stable form of remission for most recovering alcoholics".
7) Studies have shown that nearly 8 percent of men are alcoholics, while that number is less than 3 percent for women. Although many think that women feel the effects of alcohol quicker than men due to them being smaller physically, it is actually due to women having less body water than men, and producing different hormones in their bodies than men do.
Qualifying for disability benefits with this condition
Whether or not you qualify for disability and, as a result, are approved for disability benefits will depend entirely on the information obtained from your medical records.
This includes whatever statements and treatment notes that may have been obtained from your treating physician (a doctor who has a history of treating your condition and is, therefore, qualified to comment as to your condition and prognosis). It also includes discharge summaries from hospital stays, reports of imaging studies (such as xrays, MRIs, and CT scans) and lab panels (i.e. bloodwork) as well as reports from physical therapy.
In many disability claims, it may also include the results of a report issued by an independent physician who examines you at the request of the Social Security Administration.
Qualifying for SSD or SSI benefits will also depend on the information obtained from your vocational, or work, history if you are an adult, or academic records if you are a minor-age child. In the case of adults, your work history information will allow a disability examiner (examiners make decisions at the initial claim and reconsideration appeal levels, but not at the hearing level where a judges decides the outcome of the case) to A) classify your past work, B) determine the physical and mental demands of your past work, C) decide if you can go back to a past job, and D) whether or not you have the ability to switch to some type of other work.
The important thing to keep in mind is that the social security administration does not award benefits based on simply having a condition, but, instead, will base an approval or denial on the extent to which a condition causes functional limitations. Functional limitations can be great enough to make work activity not possible (or, for a child, make it impossible to engage in age-appropriate activities).
Why are so many disability cases lost at the disability application and reconsideration appeal levels?
There are several reasons but here are just two:
1) Social Security makes no attempt to obtain a statement from a claimant's treating physician. By contrast, at the hearing level, a claimant's disability attorney or disability representative will generally obtain and present this type of statement to a judge.
Note: it is not enough for a doctor to simply state that their patient is disabled. To satisy Social Security's requirements, the physician must list in what ways and to what extent the individual is functionally limited. For this reason, many representatives and attorneys request that the physician fill out and sign a specialized medical source statement that captures the correct information. Solid Supporting statements from physicians easily make the difference between winning or losing a disability case at the hearing level.
2) Prior to the hearing level, a claimant will not have the opportunity to explain how their condition limits them, nor will their attorney or representative have the opportunity to make a presentation based on the evidence of the case. This is because at the initial levels of the disability system, a disability examiner decides the case without meeting the claimant. The examiner may contact the claimant to gather information on activities of daily living and with regard to medical treatment or past jobs, but usually nothing more. At the hearing level, however, presenting an argument for approval based on medical evidence that has been obtained and submitted is exactly what happens.
About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.
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