Drugs, Alcohol and Disability

Over the years, I have heard people remark that so and so received disability benefits because of a drug or alcohol addiction. In fact, many believe that the law provides for the granting of disability to addicts. The law is far more complicated.

Before 1994, a person could receive disability benefits if he or she were disabled because of an addiction. In 1994, Congress required that persons whose addiction was material to being disabled must undergo treatment, that their benefits be limited to 36 months (during that treatment) and that the benefits could be suspended if there was non-compliance with treatment.

In 1996, Congress again changed the law for folks whose addiction was a “contributing factor material to the finding of disability.” Disability benefits for these people were prohibited. The bottom line is that if a drug or alcohol addiction exists and if that addiction were to stop the person could return to work, then no disability benefits can be awarded. If it is impossible to state which limitations remain after stopping, then it is appropriate to find that the drug/alcohol addiction is not material.

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