One of the biggest hurdles to overcome in many disability cases is the issue of alcohol or drug abuse.
The Social Security Administration is clear that neither alcohol or drug abuse on their own constitute severe impairments that qualify individuals for disability benefits.
However, the issue becomes more muddled when considering impairments related to substance abuse.
SSR 13-2p clarifies that substance abuse “is not material to the determination that the claimant is under a disability if the claimant would still meet our definition of disability if he or she were not using drugs or alcohol. If [drug addiction or alcoholism] is not material, we find that the claimant is disabled.”
What that means is that if a claimant applies for disability benefits and their only impairment is alcoholism, they will be denied.
But if a claimant has a history of alcoholism as well as severe impairments related to alcoholism such as pancreatitis, stomach issues, and cancer that will persist even if they stop drinking, they can receive disability benefits for these other impairments.
Of course, if medical providers believe these conditions will improve or cease if the claimant stops drinking, these impairments are then not eligible for disability benefits.
Another issue that often comes up in these cases that impairments that do qualify for disability often appear months later in cases where an individual has a history of drug or alcohol abuse.
A claimant may allege disability beginning January 1, 2019 and medical records only indicate problems with substance abuse until July 1, 2019 when the individual falls and injures their back, resulting in a new impairment that would be the basis for a disability claim so long as the individual amends their alleged onset date.
Even if the individual was intoxicated at the time of the fall, that back impairment could still be disabling because it would persist even without any drug or alcohol use.