SSA Clarifies Rules for Applicants with Drug or Alcohol Addiction

Posted on Mar 30, 2013

Our Boston disability attorneys are often asked if it is possible to get Social Security disability benefits for drug and/or alcohol addiction. The answer is “no.” While drug or alcohol addiction can be disabling, the Social Security Administration (SSA) cannot consider addiction or alcoholism a disability when determining an applicant’s eligibility for SSDI.

In 1996, Congress removed alcoholism and drug addiction from the list of qualifying conditions for Social Security Disability benefits; however, the policy involving applicants with drug and alcohol addictions was unclear—until now.

On March 22, 2013, Social Security ruling SSR 13–2p came into effect. The ruling explains the social Security Administrations drug and alcohol policy and how cases involving substance abuse should be evaluated.

Six-step Decision Process for Applicants with Drug or Alcohol Addiction:

  1. Does the applicant have a drug or alcohol addiction?
    a. No: Drug and alcohol materiality determination is not necessary.
    b. Yes: Go to Step 2.
  2. Is the applicant disabled when one considers all impairments, including drug or alcohol addiction?
    a. No: Deny claim.
    b. Yes: Go to Step 3.
  3. Is drug or alcohol abuse the only disabling condition?
    a. Yes: Deny claim.
    b. No: Go to Step 4.
  4. Are the other conditions disabling by themselves if drug or alcohol abuse is not considered?
    a. No: Deny claim.
    b. Yes: Go to Step 5.
  5. Does the addiction cause or affect the applicant’s disabling condition?
    a. No, the disability is separate from alcohol/drug abuse: Consider claim.
    b. Yes, but the other condition(s) is irreversible or cannot improve to the point of non-disability, even if alcohol and drug use was not an issue: Consider claim.
    c. Yes, and the disabling condition might improve if drug and alcohol abuse was not an issue: Go to Step 6.
  6. Would the other disabling conditions improve to the point of non-disability in the absence of drug or alcohol use?
    a. Yes: Deny claim.
    b. No: Consider claim.

The new ruling is expected to clarify the benefits decision process for SSDI applicants with substance abuse problems.

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John L. Keefe
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Founding Attorney, Massachusetts Social Security Disability Lawyer