Alcoholism and filing a claim for Disability Benefits
Alcoholism is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
If you have suffered from the disease of alcohol use disorder you may be eligible for disability benefits.
The Contract with America Advancement Act, passed by Congress in 1996, made it increasingly difficult for those with substance abuse issues to become eligible for disability benefits. Politicians painted those collecting disability as lazy and drug-addicted. Taxpayers did not want to see public funds go towards bad habits. Historically, the Social Security Administration did not consider whether substance issues caused or exacerbated a disability. When the act passed in 1996, people whose disability claim was based in their substance abuse issues were gradually removed from benefit rolls.
A central question in the debate over whether to grant disability to addicts is whether or not alcoholism is really a “disease”.
There is an element of free choice involved in deciding to consume a substance, however, many individuals become physically dependent on alcohol. A heavy drinker will experience severe withdrawal symptoms when they try to cut back. Psychologists suggest there are stages of addiction. First, the individual finds relief from stress in a substance, then begins using more in order to achieve the same effect. This progresses until the user becomes physically dependent on the substance. With alcohol, physically dependency can be so strong, people have died from stopping drinking suddenly.
The fact that alcoholism is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act raises some issues for employers.
Employers do not have to put up with drinking on the job and can test for use of alcohol or drugs. Employers can also hold alcoholic employees to the same standards of performance as other employees. The ADA is specific about who should be protected from discrimination due to alcohol use. Individuals who have completed or are participating in a rehabilitation program are protected from discrimination.
Alcoholism is not covered as a disability for those attempting to collect Social Security Disability Insurance.
However, many of the diseases and disorders caused by excessive alcohol consumption are covered. In order to receive benefits, claimants must show that their substance abuse is not a “contributing material factor”. This is determined by six questions:
- Does the claimant have a drug or alcohol addiction?
- Is the claimant disabled considering all impairments?
- Is addiction the only impairment?
- Are the other impairments disabling by themselves?
- Does the addiction cause or affect the claimants other impairments?
- Would the other impairments improve to the point of non-disability if not for the addiction?
If it can be shown that the claimant would have the condition if they stopped using drugs or alcohol then they may be eligible for benefits.
Conversely, if it is determined the claimant’s use of drugs and alcohol is exacerbating a non-disabling condition into a disability, then the claimant will not be eligible. Interestingly, it does not matter whether or not the disability was caused by addiction, only whether if discontinuing substance abuse would alleviate the condition to non-disability. For example, a sober ex-alcoholic could potentially be eligible for disability benefits for liver or kidney diseases contracted while addicted.
If you have been denied benefits, contact the attorneys at Bemis, Roach and Reed today for a free consultation. We have the experience you need to present your disability claim successfully.
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