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Effects of Drug Addiction and Alcoholism on Social Security Disability Determinations

Disabled individuals often suffer from depression, either independently or as a result or part of their physical disability. In many cases, individuals also self-medicate with alcohol or prescription drugs in an attempt to alleviate the pain.

December 2010 image.jpgThe Social Security Administration no longer grants disability benefits to people with drug and alcohol addiction as their primary disability or when those addictions are a material factor in the disability. An individual may struggle with addictions however as a result of their disability and in those cases, the individual may still be entitled to benefits.

First, the review of an individual with potential drug and alcohol addiction begins with medical evidence. Medical evidence comes from an acceptable medical source like a hospital, clinic or doctor. The review also considers the individual's own statement about his or her condition such as "I'm an alcoholic". If the medical evidence demonstrates a medically determinable substance abuse disorder (one in which the individual's pattern of use causes significant impairment or distress), then a determination must be made as to whether the condition is a material factor contributing to the disability. A material factor means that if the individual stopped using drugs or alcohol, they would not be disabled. Thus, if the abuse is material, the individual will not be awarded benefits.

In determining whether the substance abuse is a material factor, the decision maker will need to carefully consider which limitations would remain if the claimant stopped using drugs or alcohol and whether those remaining limitations would be disabling. If the limitations would remain and those limitations would be disabling, the individual may be awarded benefits.

It is important to note that just because an individual uses drugs or alcohol does not trigger this kind of careful evaluation. The use must be significant enough to be determined a medically determinable condition.

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