Seeking Disability Benefits For Drug Addiction or Alcoholism


Social Security Administration (SSA) offers benefits for a number of disabilities. If you suffer from a disability that prevents you from earning a meaningful wage, you may qualify for disability benefits. A Greenville Social Security lawyer can help you file the claim and seek these benefits.

SSA considers the functional impairments caused by a disability when making a decision. Specifically, the agency considers whether a disability effectively prevents you from performing work-related tasks such as walking, lifting, and typing. If a medical condition does impose such limitations, it meets SSA’s definition of a disability.

This may lead many applicants to believe that alcoholism and drug addiction are also covered under the SSI and SSDI benefits. After all, in their severe degrees, both conditions can prevent a person from keeping a gainful employment. Here is a look at whether these conditions qualify for disability benefits.

In the Past

Before 1996, SSA considered alcoholism and drug addiction as disabilities. This meant that if you suffered from either condition to the extent that you couldn’t keep a steady job, you could qualify for disability benefits.

However, this changed in 1996 when SSA adopted a new policy towards these conditions. Under this new policy, the agency will consider whether alcoholism or drug addiction is a material or secondary factor in a disability application. This will determine whether or not the applicant qualifies for benefits.

Alcoholism or Addiction as a Material Factor

In SSA policy terms, a material factor is ‘a contributing factor material to the determination of the disability.’ In other words, it is the factor that directly contributes to the condition giving rise to the disability. If this factor is taken away, the disability also likely goes away.

To illustrate this more clearly, consider this example. An alcoholic person routinely consumes heavy amounts of alcohol. This leads to liver problems as well as an inability to earn a meaningful wage. However, if this person stops drinking, the liver problems are non-critical enough to go away. At the same time, the person would be able to get a meaningful wage if he or she stopped drinking. So alcoholism is a material factor in this case.

As per SSA policy since 1996, you can’t get disability benefits if alcoholism or drug addiction is a material factor in your case. In simpler words, SSA no longer recognizes alcoholism or drug addiction as a disability in itself. SSA Code of Federal Regulations also lays out how the agency determines whether alcoholism or drug addiction is a material factor.

Alcoholism or Addiction as a Secondary Factor

There are situations where alcoholism or drug addiction may be a secondary factor contributing to a disability. This is typically the case when a person abuses alcohol or drugs over an extended period. This may leave a person with permanent medical conditions.

For instance, an alcoholic person may develop a damaged liver after excessively abusing alcohol over a long period. This medical condition is not likely to go away even if the person stopped drinking now. If the liver damage is severe enough to prevent the person from earning a meaningful wage, he may qualify for disability benefits.

This is because alcoholism is no longer a material factor in the disability application. Instead, the liver condition is the material factor whereas alcoholism is a secondary factor. The same principle may apply where drug addiction is no longer a material factor.

It is also possible that you suffer from a disability that is separate and distinct from your alcoholism or drug addiction. A person who suffers from schizophrenia and is an alcoholic, for instance, may qualify for disability benefits. This is because schizophrenia is the primary material factor in the disability case, and not alcoholism.

The Representative Payee

As noted above, you may qualify for disability benefits even with a record of alcohol or drug abuse. If you do qualify, SSA will likely appoint a representative payee. This is a designated person who SSA appoints to receive your disability checks.

The representative payee is meant to stop you from spending all your disability money on alcohol or drugs. However, if you can demonstrate that you are trying to quit or are in the recovery phase, SSA may not appoint a payee.

Why Hire a Greenville Social Security Lawyer?

If you are seeking disability benefits while suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction, you may face many legal complications. As noted above, SSA will use a more rigorous and thorough evaluation to determine whether alcoholism or drug addiction is a material factor in your case.

Here at Robert Surface, we help you navigate these legal complexities while protecting your rights. Our aim is to help you get the disability benefits that you deserve. Call us now to discuss your disability benefits case with our Greenville lawyers.