The process to obtain SSDI or SSI benefits can be daunting. Many first-time applicants are denied benefits initially, only to be granted them after the denial has been appealed. In short, there are a lot of reasons why someone might not even apply for benefits to begin with. If your reason is drug or alcohol use, don’t despair; there is still hope.
Is drug or alcohol use a contributing material factor?
When the Social Security Administration makes its initial determination of whether an applicant is eligible for benefits, they are trying to find out if a disability exists and if that disability qualifies. Addiction to alcohol or drugs, by itself, is not a qualifying disability. But the fact of an addiction also does not automatically exclude an applicant.
If the SSA concludes that the SSDI/SSI applicant has one or more physical or mental disabilities, independent of alcohol or drug use, benefits may be granted. Let’s say an applicant has a history of mental illness which the SSA recognizes as a qualifying disability. But the SSA also receives information that the applicant uses drugs or alcohol – they will then attempt to determine whether the usage is a contributing factor material to the disability.
In other words, if the applicant stopped using drugs or alcohol, would the disability still exist and qualify for benefits? If the answer is no, then benefits will be denied. But if the answer is yes, then benefits can be granted. It’s important to note that, when SSA does its analysis, it is only looking at the current usage of alcohol or drugs. If they were used in the past, and even if the usage directly caused the current disability, that fact is immaterial and benefits can be awarded.