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Can an addiction to drugs or alcohol affect SSD eligibility?

pJunkieAndNeedle_Depositphotos_23137164_m-300x200.jpgSocial Security uses strict rules to determine whether people qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. Social Security does not consider people disabled if drug or alcohol use contributes substantially to their conditions. Given this rule, many people think receiving SSD benefits while fighting or recovering from addiction is impossible. However, as any Social Security lawyer in Tennessee knows, a substance addiction doesn't always preclude a person from receiving benefits.

Evaluating substance use

When an SSD claimant suffers from an addiction, Social Security first evaluates whether the claimant qualifies as disabled. If so, Social Security assesses how the substance use contributes to the person's disablement. If the addiction is a "material factor," Social Security cannot award benefits. Drug or alcohol addiction may be a material factor in the following cases:

  • The substance use disorder is the only impairment that the claimant suffers from.
  • The claimant's other impairments would not be disabling if the claimant stopped using drugs or alcohol.
  • The substance use contributes to or worsens the claimant's other impairments.

In the last scenario, Social Security considers how much a physical or mental impairment would improve in the absence of substance use. If a condition is irreversible or unlikely to improve, a person may qualify for SSD benefits despite substance use. For example, a blind person with a drug or alcohol addiction may still receive SSD benefits. This is because the blindness would persist regardless of whether the individual stopped using drugs or alcohol.

Social Security also cannot deny a person benefits because substance use was a material factor in the past. For instance, a person may develop liver disease after long-term alcohol use. As a Social Security lawyer in Tennessee understands, Social Security can only consider the contribution of the person's present alcohol use. Similarly, if a person suffered a disabling injury while intoxicated, the causative role of drugs or alcohol is irrelevant.

Ongoing addictions

Claims involving ongoing substance use disorders can become complicated when the interactions between the disabling condition and disorder are unclear. A common example is a claim involving a mental disorder, such as depression or anxiety. Drug and alcohol use are known to promote or even worsen these disorders. This can make it difficult for Social Security to evaluate whether a person would qualify as disabled with the addiction factored out.

As a Social Security lawyer in Tennessee would agree, periods of sobriety can bolster a person's SSD claim. Medical evidence and assessments from these intervals can help demonstrate that the condition remains disabling. Claimants don't need to document lengthy periods of sobriety. Social Security may use evidence from periods as short as 30 days to evaluate whether a condition is impairing without substance use.

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