Alcoholism and Disability: Falsehoods vs. Facts

broken bottleOne of the things we frequently hear from clients frustrated by the Social Security Disability system is that alcoholics are so easily awarded benefits based solely on their drinking problem. In fact, this has not been true for years.

The criteria related to alcoholism changed in 1996, after Congress required SSA to remove alcoholism (along with drug addiction) as a basis for disability. That resulted in many people who had been granted benefits under the old rule having their benefits revoked. This does not mean, however, that alcoholics can’t receive disability — only that they must have other ailments separate from their addiction to alcohol.

This is not to say that alcohol disorders should not be taken seriously. According to the World Health Organization, alcohol kills 3.3 million people worldwide annually, with consumption of alcohol increasing. If you count drunken driving, violence involving alcohol and other alcohol-related medical issues, alcohol gets the blame for 1 death every 10 seconds, a staggering statistic. It has connections to more than 200 health conditions: cirrhosis, hepatitis, cancer, TB, HIV, pneumonia, heart disease and diabetes.

If your condition(s) relate to alcohol, it’s necessary to prove that the medical issues would continue even if you were no longer drinking. Another hurdle exists for those with a history of alcohol abuse but who say they have given up drinking — they need to prove they have, in fact, stopped. A person can get benefits even if alcohol originally caused the ailment, provided they won’t get any better even without drinking. Woe to those who don’t quit, however, if SSA finds that drinking makes their health problems worse — they will NOT be awarded benefits. Also, if you are awarded benefits but SSA believes drinking would impair your ability to handle finances, they will require you to have a representative payee.

If you have a health problem related to alcohol but have been denied disability, we can help determine if you have grounds  for an appeal. But keep in mind that medical records are key to any Social Security disability case, so there will be no hiding alcohol use or the fact that it might be material to your condition. Honesty is the best policy!