One of the first things the Social Security Administration (SSA) looks for when reviewing an application for disability benefits is a list of medications that you're taking to treat your illness or disorder. Medications signal to the SSA that not only do you have a condition that needs a doctor's attention, but that you're actively taking steps to improve your health (potentially to the point where you could return to work).
No single medication exists where just having the prescription is enough for the SSA to automatically find you disabled. But because some medications are only prescribed when a condition is especially serious, their presence in your medication list indicates to Social Security that your health issues are more likely to prevent you from working.
You'll have a very difficult time showing the SSA that you're disabled if you aren't taking any kind of medication. Social Security wants to see that you've tried to improve your condition before you file for disability. Taking medication is usually the simplest way to treat a health issue, so if you aren't taking any, the SSA could think that your condition isn't very serious.
Health care is often expensive, however, and many disability applicants ("claimants") aren't able to afford prescribed medications. If you haven't been taking medication because you don't have health insurance or can't pay out-of-pocket costs, see our article on how to get medication without health insurance.
Simply taking your medications as prescribed won't tell the SSA all the agency needs to know about your medical conditions. Social Security will look at how much medication you're taking and how often you're taking it, along with any side effects that you experience.
For example, if your doctor prescribed a high daily dosage of an opioid (such as hydrocodone) for pain relief, Social Security will likely consider the medication to be stronger evidence of a disabling condition than if you take over-the-counter ibuprofen once a week.
Some conditions have commonly prescribed medications that the SSA will be on the lookout for in your disability claim. Examples include:
Keep in mind that the presence or absence of these medications doesn't guarantee that Social Security will or won't approve your claim. The agency will look at all of your medical records, your function report, and your doctors' opinions to determine whether you're disabled.
No medication that you've been taking as prescribed by a doctor will prevent you from earning SSDI or SSI benefits, even drugs that have a high potential of being misused, like opioids. But if your doctor prescribes a medication that you don't take as recommended—and you can't provide a good reason why—Social Security could deny your claim based on failure to follow prescribed treatment.
The SSA can deny a claim based on a failure to follow "doctor's orders" when the agency doesn't know whether properly taking the medication would have improved your condition enough to return to work. If you're taking a prescribed medication, but not as directed, Social Security can consider this as evidence of failure to comply with treatment (or even as substance abuse).
Any non-prescription medications or drugs that you're taking outside of doctor's orders will be evaluated under Social Security's policy on drug or alcohol abuse to determine whether your condition would improve if you stopped use of the drug.
While taking medication doesn't, by itself, determine whether you're disabled, the SSA will take into consideration any side effects you have when deciding whether you could perform any job.
Social Security doesn't expect you to stop taking needed medication in order to work, so the agency factors in limitations resulting from medication side effects when assessing your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC is a set of restrictions representing the most you're capable of doing, physically and mentally, in a work environment.
Side effects vary widely by medication and individual, but some side effects that disability claimants often report to Social Security include:
Having one or more of these (or many other) side effects can have a significant impact on your ability to perform work-related activities such as lifting and carrying objects, following instructions, and completing tasks. If the combined side effects of your medications keep you from performing any full-time job on a regular basis, the SSA will find that you're disabled.
Your medication list is only one piece of the puzzle of your disability claim. Simply listing your medications and side effects does not always provide Social Security with the information the agency needs to see if you qualify for disability benefits.
Consider getting help with your application from an experienced disability attorney or representative. Your attorney can review your medical records for any missing documents, submit a brief to Social Security explaining the legal reasons why you're disabled, and represent you at a hearing in front of an administrative law judge.
Updated October 13, 2022