Social Security Disability Benefits and Drug and Alcohol Use
DAA (drug and alcohol abuse) materiality can have a negative impact on the claims of those filing for social security disability (SSD) or supplemental security income (SSI). What is DAA materiality? The term refers to an individual's use of drugs or alcohol and the issue of whether or not an individual's state of disability would actually exist minus the use of these drugs. The problem with DAA materiality, of course, is not whether a person has used substances in the past, but whether or not the individual is continuing to use them and whether or not the individual's limitations would abate if the use was stopped.
For this reason, it may not be a good idea to mention past drug or alcohol use in your disability application, as a disability examiner may seize upon this information and use it as an excuse to deny benefits. Even if your medical records indicate only that you drink socially, or that you admit to past substance abuse, DDS (the disability determination services agency, a state agency that decides all social security disability claims) may determine that you are in some way contributing to your impairment and limitations.
On average, DDS denies 7 out of 10 disability applications, and more than 8 out of 10 first social security disability appeals. These statistic point to the inevitable conclusion that, often, it doesn’t take much to get turned down for disability. Given the fact that claimants are under no legal obligation to report past substance abuse, it may be best to forgo mentioning it altogether if you hope to qualify for disability.
Even if the disability examiner does not consider the occasional use of alcohol or past substance abuse (even trying marijuana as a teenager) to be a contributing factor to your disability, there is such a culture of claims denial throughout DDS that it is possible that someone (the examiner’s supervisor or the doctor or psychologist assigned to the unit) may assign greater-than-due-significance to the mention of substance use.
This may be especially true if you are filing for disability on the basis of a mental impairment. Mental conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder have been linked to alcohol or drug use, and several studies have shown that the abuse of alcohol or drugs can worsen symptoms associated with these types of illnesses.
Regardless of whether you are filing for SSD or SSI for a physical or mental impairment, consider carefully before you mention alcohol and drug use on your social security disability application or on your request for reconsideration appeal paperwork (this first appeal is decided within DDS, the same agency that decided the initial application, which is why most first social security disability appeals are unsuccessful).
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