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Can alcoholics and drug addicts get a Social Security benefit for disability?

By   /  March 3, 2016  /  14 Comments

Learn when a drug addict or alcoholic can and cannot receive a Social Security benefit based on disability and how a lawyer can help an addict’s claim.

ssd alcoholic drug addictLimitations on Payment of a Social Security Benefit

A number of years ago, Congress passed a law that prohibits payment of a Social Security benefit for disabilities caused by drug or alcohol addiction, including addiction to prescription medications. However, if you are addicted to drugs or alcohol and you have a disability that is due to an injury or a separate a physical or mental illness, you could be approved for disability benefits based on the other condition. For example, you may be able to qualify if have an addiction and also have a disabling mental illness or disabling back condition.

Let an Attorney Help

Sometimes it is hard to determine the cause of disabling symptoms, so getting the help of a lawyer who is knowledgeable in Social Security Disability law could make a difference in the outcome of your claim. For more detail, see our article “Do I Really Have to Hire a Lawyer for  My Social Security Disability Claim?”.

What About Social Security Retirement?

It is worthwhile to note that addiction does not affect your eligibility for a Social Security benefit based on retirement, including early reduced retirement benefits.

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  • Lenaiya

    Hi Kay,

    I had my 5 yr disability review (short firm with 3 questions) i filled it out & sent it back thinking the return self addressed envelope was postage paid since it was last time, but it wasn’t and it was returned to me for lack of postage which caused the form to miss the deadline which sparked the full review where i had to fill out like 9 pages of information and answer detailed questions about my condition and sign consent firms for my medical records. Since i submitted my medical records myself when i first applied, i decided to again submit them myself for the review and put in a written request for my medical records. I am being treated by the states RBHA for PTSD & Bipolar Disorder and the RBHA referred me out to another behavior health clinic for counseling because all the RBHA does is prescribe medication and provide case management. I submitted a request for my records with the mental health agency i was referred out to for counseling & was shocked to find two diagnosises on the record i had never been diagnosed with before and were flat out false. Both had DSM codes next to them. They were polysubstance dependence disorder and psychoactive drug dependency! I was FURIOUS! I contacted the agency and they told me they didn’t put it there, that it was written on the referral submitted by my case mgr. At my next Dr. appt with the RBHA to get my meds refilled, i told my Dr about the erroneous diagnosis and she looked in my file and said there was nothing in my chart that had those diagnosises in there and said she never diagnosed me with these disorders. I do not use drugs, never have and I had no record of any drug abuse history so I am flabbergasted, shocked and very upset that these diagnosises were falsely and erroneously put in my medical record because they cannot be removed since it is a legal document, they can only be ammended with a statement that they are not accurate which diesnt sit well with me because what if the person viewing my medical records only see these diagnosises and doesn’t bother to tead the ammendment? These diagnoses are very derogatory and could affect me detrimentally in the future because they indicate that i am a current drug user and addict and that i use not only one drug, but 3 or more drugs despite there being dire consequences (such as losing ones job or having one’s kids taken away, etc) so it gives the impression that i am not only a current drug addict/user, it paints me as a irresponsible junkie and i am mortified by this because i am the exact opposite of what these diagnosises portray me as. It seems the case mgr who wrote the referral for the counseling wrote them on the referral intentionally because she obviously wasn’t copying them from my current medical record on file with the RBHA because these diagnosises do not appear anywhere in that file, only on my referral and on the records with the agency i was referred to. This case mgr also planted a positive drug test in my file that i know was negative. She said i tested pisitive for benzodiazapenes which i am legally prescribed but the thing is, i was off my meds at the time i had the urine test (it was a routine blood and urine lab test) and had been off of them for weeks because i lost the key to my mailbox and wasn’t able to access it to get my Rx’s out which the pharmacy sends to me in the mail. Because my mailbox got so full, everything in it, including the Rx’s were sent back to the post office and then the post office sent the Rx’s back to the pharmacy so i have proof i wasn’t even on my prescription meds at the time she claimed i tested positive for the benzos. She used this “positive” drug test as a reason for putting me in substance abuse classes even though i objected to them she said she is aware the medication is legally prescribed but because it was positive for benzos i had to do the classes (this makes absolutely no sense) I asked her hiw I could test positive for a Rx that i have been off of for 3 weeks and she insisted it was probably a trace amount that was still in my system but i happen to know that Rx’s are definitely no longer in your system after 3 days! So they would definitely not show up after 3 weeks of discontinuance! I asked to see a cooy of the positive test result and she refused. I requested to see it two additional times and the request was ignored. I believe this person is trying to sabotage me by creating a false drug history in my medical record for whatever reason and i’m not sure what my recourse options are, if any. But what concerns me is it has been 3 months since i submitted my medical records to soc sec for my eval and they have not yet made a decision on whether or not to continue my benefits. Should i be concerned about these false drug dependency diagnosises that appear in my record? Can soc sec deny to continue my benefits since these diagnosises indicate i am a current drug user? (The criteria for both diagnosises state that the patient must be using 3 or more drugs simultaneously for at least a 12 month period, and considering the date of when these diagnosises were added, it indicates current drug use) can my benefits be discontinued because of this and if they can/are, and i appeal it, how do i get this fixed bcuz from what i understand this will follow me and cannot be removed from my record, only ammended. If this was done intentionally, how can i prove it? I am appaulled by this woman’s actions and feel this is very unethical.

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Lenaiya,

      If your medical records show that you have a physical and/or psychiatric disability without consideration of any limitations caused by drug use or allegedly caused by drug uses, your Social Security benefits will continue. If your claim is closed, you can appeal; and if you get SSI benefits and you appeal within ten days, you can have your benefits continued during the appeal. If you have to appeal and the closure is based on your disability being cause by drug dependency, make a short statement that an error was made in your records, that you must have been mixed up with someone else when the case worker made the note (which is much more likely than the case worker doing it on purpose). Indicate you have never used illegal drugs or misused prescription drugs. Also explain that you were off meds for three weeks because of the problem with your mailbox. Submit proof from the pharmacy of the date that the medications were returned and the date that the next meds were mailed out so you can prove you weren’t on any drugs on the date the testing was supposed to have occurred. Point out the date that the correction was put into the medical records.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

      • Lenaiya

        Thank you for your quick response Kay. I am on SSDI and my disability is not the result of drug use and there is nothing in my medical records that indicate that it is, so based on this information my benefits should continue. Does it normally take this long when making a determination of continued eligibility? When I furst applied for SSDI many years ago, I was approved the on the first and only application submission and that decision was made two months after my application was submitted. But it has been three months since I completed the eligibility evaluation and I called last week to find out the status of it and the soc sec rep said she doesn’t show anything in the computer, not even that it was received. That doesn’t concern me tho becuz i know they received it bcuz i turned it in at their office personally and the guy overseeing my evaluation gave me copies of everything i submitted and it is all time/date stamped so i know they got it, it just hasn’t been entered into their system yet. I wonder what is taking so long? I could excuse the erroneous drug dependency diagnosis’ as an error, but coupled with the fact that a positive drug test result was put in my file when i know for a fact there were no drugs in my system, prescription or otherwise, makes it kinda hard to think she could make such errors not once, but twice? I don’t want to seem paranoid so i am reluctant to bring it up to the staff at the clinic where i am being treated bcuz even i admit, it seems unlikely that a case mgr would deliberately sabbotage a mentally disabled client but i believe it could be retaliation for a discrimination complaint I filed under the ADA. Current drug users are not covered under the ADA and therefore on not protected under their discrimination laws, which these diagnosises, along with a positive drug test result and subsequent completion of these substance absuse classes I was pretty much forced to complete, implicate me as a current drug user
        and my complaint would effectively dismissed. As crazy as this all sounds, corruption exists. If it didn’t, there would be no such word. The evidence of discrimination is compelling and very solid so there is definitely a motive for her to do such a thing in order to invalidate the claims made in my complaint, whether the allegations are true or not, proof of current drug use would effectively dismiss my complaint without question since current drug users are not afforded the protection of the ADA. I assume this is because drug users/abusers and addicts have no credibility even if there is clear and convincing evidence of such allegations. So ya, I won’t rule out the possibility that this was done intentionally, i just don’t know how to prove that it was, and motive alone doesn’t support my suspicion & i cannot prove the act was intentional but considering all the factors, I am almost certain that it was. Thank you again Kay, i aporeciate your time in responding to my questions in a timely manner.

        • Kay Derochie

          Dear Lenaiya,

          If your ADA complaint was about the error related to diagnosing you as drug dependent and requiring attendance at the classes, the filing of the complaint would add credence to your appeal if your claim is closed due to disability caused by drug dependency.

          Sincerely,
          Kay

  • Cierra

    Hi. I am a 26 year old woman who has been unable to hold down a job for any lengthy period of time. I think the longest I have ever been employed has been around a year or less when I was 17 and turning 18 years old. Since that time, I have experienced severe alternating periods of depression, constant debilitating anxiety, and have been a sufferer of PTSD since 2012. I am also a well documented addict, but graduated from a treatment facility in 2013 after being inpatient for almost one year. I am currently on methadone for my opiate addiction. I am not using substances at this time, besides the one prescribed to me. But, my addiction is not the reason I can’t work…its the inability to get out of bed most days, the seemingly random, intense episodes of paranoia that embarrass and terrify me, the racing thoughts and physical tension, the intrusive, constant feeling of impending doom, or fear that someone kick in the door or climb in through a window and will kill, kidnap, or rape me or a loved one that keeps me up all night literally laying in bed biting my nails until there is nothing left to bite. I hate to sound like I am just embellishing or being dramatic, but I do not leave my house 27 days out of the month on average, except a 30 minute trip to the methadone clinic to take my medicine, and even that is a nightmare. I am so afraid we will wreck that I have to look at my lap or close my eyes to get any relief, and even then its only a bit of a relief. I am unable to drive. I worry to the point that I get stomach cramps and feel nauseous. About 3 or so nights a week, I have vivid nightmares that sometimes cause me to wake myself up because I am yelling in my sleep. I awake from these nightmares disoriented and am unable to fall back to sleep. In 2012, I witnessed a murder and was hospitalized a couple different times relating to that episode . I was told I have ptsd at that time. I have been prescribed xanax for anxiety at different times, but choose not to take it anymore because of my addiction. Please help. Am I able to qualify for disability even though I haven’t maintained gainful employment in the 9 years since ive been a legal adult? These awful symptoms keep me stuck in a room most days and the thought of leaving to look for a job or facing people, having to interact with anyone just terrifies me.

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Cierra,

      If your income and assets are below the limits for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits. SSI does not require work credits from U.S. citizens and some aliens. I suggest that you file an application. You can request a telephone application interview by calling Social Security at 1-800-772-1213. Submit a psychiatric functional capacity statement from your physician if you can, as well as a thorough statement of your limitations. It is possible that you will be asked to see a psychiatrist in a consulting examination paid for by Social Security. If you are, it is important that you attend, so plan to get whatever support you need to attend.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Jae

    My name is jae and I’m 25.I’m a recovering drug addict that is currently still in treatment and I really need help.I am severely depressed,my anxiety is out of control and I feel I have PTSD due to my stay in prison at the age of 22.My mother passed shortly after me getting home.I could get more into it but in a nutshell that’s what’s going on and besides having to get diagnosed or have doctor proof do I sound like a eligible applicant?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Jae,

      It is possible that you meet Social Security’s definition of being disabled. The only way to find out is to file a claim. Be sure to indicate that you are clean and sober and are claiming disability based on mental illness only.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • C willima

    I applied for disability in 2007 for my son. In 2009 he got a ss attourmry to help him get disability..In 2013 he was finally approved after 3 hearings. they paid back payments and made adjustments and corrections in this process. We were sent a letter from a judge saying the attourny did not file a pettision in time so the money was being sent to him and the attourney could not go back to him for the payment. We recieved a payment that said he was being paid money that should have been paid to him and was not..we thought it was another correction..however now I assume it was the legal fee even though its less than the attouney requested..The attourneys have gone back to a judge and submitted another document and want the money they say was mistakenily sent to us..My son bought a car with that money and does not have any. Am I liable for the money as payee ..He has been getting social security disabilty and the back payment money was from ssi ? What should I do..

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear C.,

      Your son is responsible for any financial obligations he has, not you. If you are his representative payee, then you would be responsible for using his money to pay his obligations. You or your son can provide a statement to the judge that it would not be equitable to award more money to the attorney after this length of time and that the money has been spent. If the judge awards the funds to the attorney, then it would appear that your son needs to make arrangements with the attorney to make monthly payments.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • My husband Freddie Melson was approved for ssi. WE got the letter saying that he would get his first installment by April 30 2014. WE really thought we were getting it so we fixed some things that need repaired and it put us short on our bills. WE havnt received this yet and it is july 4. We have went to the local social security board severa times, seems no one can give us an answer. We even called the main office. They faxed the Corbin office to get our check to us. The Corbin office acknored their request. They keep telling us the woman over the back pay isn’t at her desk we have called and begged them to return our call and she never has. So what can we do to get the money they owe my husband?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Freddie’s wife,

      You might try going to the office and asking to speak to a supervisor.

      Sincerely,

      Kay

  • Devvine Franklin

    I began receiving ss benefits for my daughter last year. The back pay only went back 6 months. I applied over 8 years ago. Can I receive money back that far?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Devvine,

      Please clarify a few points for me so that I can respond:

      Did you apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for your daughter because she is disabled, or did your apply for Social Security dependents benefits because she is a minor and you receive Social Security? If you receive benefits for yourself, when did they start? What is your daughter’s date of birth?

      Thank you,

      Kay

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