Are Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Disabilities?

Alcoholism and drug addiction are complicated scenarios that can ultimately destroy a person’s life including their finances, their career, and their family. While there may be some aspect of choice in taking the first drink or doing the first drug, alcoholism and addiction are considered diseases in the medical community, because of how your brain reacts to these substances and the progressive, chronic nature of addiction.

That leaves people wondering, are alcoholism and drug addiction disabilities?

The following are some things you should know as to whether alcoholism and drug addiction are disabilities.

Are Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Disabilities?
First, important to the conversation of “are alcoholism and drug addiction disabilities,” is understanding what disability benefits are. The government offers benefits for people with certain disabilities, through the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs. These are some of the largest federal programs providing assistance to disabled people.

In order to receive these financial benefits, an individual must meet certain criteria.

With Social Security Disability Insurance, benefits are paid to the individual and some of their family members, if they’ve paid into Social Security through their taxes. Then, there’s the Supplemental Security Income program, which pays financial benefits based on the determination of need.

When someone applies for these programs, they provide medical and personal information that are used to make a determination.

Before 1996, someone could be eligible for Social Security disability benefits if they were an alcoholic, but Congress changed that, and you can’t receive these benefits if alcoholism is the only impairment you have.

You can apply to receive disability benefits for health problems in injuries related to your alcoholism, but you have to show that these would apply even if you were to stop drinking, and you really have to prove it.

If Social Security sees it as your alcoholism contributing to your disability, you won’t receive benefits. This doesn’t mean that SSA will refuse the benefits just because someone is using drugs or alcohol, but their condition must remain regardless of this fact.

There is something paid by the SSA under an official disability which is known as substance addiction disorder. This recognizes the illnesses caused by chronic alcoholism, but again, to qualify it’s for the underlying illness, not for the problem of substance abuse alone.

In order to meet this criteria, the applicant has to show significant physical or behavioral changes that are associated with alcoholism and impact the central nervous system such as personality disorders, liver damage, pancreatitis or seizures.

In addition to Social Security issues, something else important to include in the conversation about whether or not alcoholism and drug addiction are disabilities is the Americans with Disabilities Act or the ADA. The ADA defines alcoholism and drug addiction as disabilities.

Alcoholism is a mental impairment, and this means that for example, employers couldn’t take action against an employee because of this disability. This also means that an employee can’t be disciplined just because they are an alcoholic, and there must be reasonable accommodations made for this disability. This would be considered illegal discrimination otherwise.

Another scenario people often wonder about in the discussion of alcoholism and drug addiction as disabilities is what would happen if they needed to take time off work to attend rehab. If it seems like reasonable accommodations could be made, the employer is required to do that, but if the person asks for three months off, let’s say, this might not be considered reasonable.

So this sounds like if you’re an alcoholic or a drug addict, you can be drunk on the job and behave in an out-of-control way and your employer can’t fire you. That’s not true either. Under the ADA and most state laws, the alcoholism itself is a disability as it’s a disease, but drinking or being drunk at work isn’t. There can be rules that employees can’t drink or be intoxicated on the job.

With drug addiction, up to this year, there was a Social Security listing for substance addiction disorders that people could meet if they had changes to their health, physically or mentally because of the abuse of any drug, but there is no longer a listing for addiction.

However, if you have certain impairments because of substance abuse including pancreatitis, liver damage, brain damage, seizures, depression or anxiety disorder, among others, you may be able to meet Social Security criteria.

That all may have sounded complicated, so let’s sum up.

Are alcoholism and drug addiction disabilities?

For purposes of Social Security, no, these conditions in and of themselves aren’t considered disabilities, although conditions resulting from addiction may qualify a person for disability payments if they can prove these conditions would exist with or without their substance abuse.

Regarding the ADA which relates not just to employment, but also things like housing, yes, alcoholism and addiction are considered disabilities, but the act of being drunk or intoxicated are not.

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