The Impact of Drug or Alcohol Abuse on Government Disability Cases

by Brad on January 7, 2014

social security advocates law justice(US law) Drug or alcohol use can potentially impact the outcome of a social security claim and will be determined by the Social Security Administration (SSA). A professional social security doctor or advocacy professional is recommended to explore individual claimants cases further.

Contributing Factor?

The Social Security Administration is required to evaluate whether or not an individual’s substance abuse problem is a “contributing factor” to that individual’s claimed disability. This essentially means that if the claimant’s drug abuse or alcoholism either caused the disability or worsens the condition to the point of disability, then the Social Security Administration is required to deny the claim. Before making this determination, the Social Security Administration will first determine if the individual is in fact disabled. Once the disability determination has been made, the SSA will evaluate if the claimant could return to work if the drug or alcohol use ceased; if so, the claim will be denied and no benefits paid. The exception to this is if the claimant is currently using prescription medication for an existing condition, in which case the drug use is acceptable and will not detrimental to the claim.

Mental Disorder

Although drug and alcohol abuse can be known to impact physical conditions, the most common situation where a substance abuse determination can impact a claim is when a claimant is seeking disability compensation for a mental health disorder (such as depression). In these cases it is especially important to determine whether the claimant would still be unable to work if the drug or alcohol abuse problem did not exist, since these disorders can often be more debilitating when coupled with a drug or alcohol abuse problem. In such a case, the SSA will look for evidence that the claimant would be able to return to work if the drug or alcohol use ceased; if so, the SSA will deny the claim and no benefits will be awarded.


Another factor to consider for claimants facing this situation is the perception of the caseworker assigned to determine the outcome of the case. Generally speaking, individuals actively abusing drugs or alcohol could face questions about credibility and character and would be much better off without the stigma of substance abuse attached to their file. “Self medicating” with drugs or alcohol as a treatment for the condition can also be detrimental to a case, even when the substance is not directly contributing to the claimed disability. In these situations the termination of all drug or alcohol use will be of great value, as well as proactively entering a treatment program as a token of good faith. It is important to remember that the burden of proof lies with the claimant, so raising questions about character or credibility should be avoided wherever possible.

Safe Course

When facing these types of issues regarding drug and alcohol use while going through the disability claim process, it is important to enlist the services of a social security advocacy professional where possible. The outcome of a disability claim is paramount, and the knowledge and experience of these professionals cannot be overstated.



President and Founder at Myler Disability
I am the Founder and President of Myler Disability Advocacy , founded in 1994. I'm very interested in writing legal advice on the application/ appeal processes for citizens filing for disability benefits from the U.S Social Security Office. Since there are 37 Million Americans who are classified as disabled and more than 8 million receive disability, the demand for these resources is very high. Thus far have co-authored the Beginners Guide to Disability: I also write for the following sites:,, and

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