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In some circumstances, yes.
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Social Security does not consider someone to be disabled solely on the basis of a substance abuse problem. It used to, but a 1996 federal law eliminated alcoholism and addiction as grounds for benefit claims. At the same time, you cannot legally be denied Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) because of drinking or drug use if your medical condition otherwise meets the benefit criteria.
However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) can reject a benefit claim if it determines that drug or alcohol use causes or contributes to the physical or functional limitations that render you disabled — unable to work for a year or more.
If your medical record has evidence of a substance use disorder, only then can SSA officials consider its effect on your condition. Disability examiners, in consultation with medical experts, assess whether drug or alcohol dependency is, in Social Security parlance, “material” to determining if you are disabled.
Two questions are key to this determination:
- Are drugs or alcohol causing or worsening your physical or mental impairment?
- Would your condition improve to the point where you could return to work if you stopped using?
If the answer to both is no, the SSA deems the substance abuse “not material,” meaning you still would be sufficiently impaired minus any limitations related to drinking or drugs, and it can allow your claim. If the answer to both is yes, you will not be considered disabled, and your claim will be denied.