The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes that drug addiction or substance abuse can cause irreversible physical or mental conditions. While the agency no longer awards benefits solely on the basis of drug addiction, you might still qualify for disability benefits if you have separate impairments that prevent you from working—even if the impairment was caused by substance abuse.
Drug addiction isn't considered a disabling impairment on its own anymore. Since 2017, when the agency removed its Blue Book listing for substance addiction disorders, if you file an application ("claim") for SSDI or SSI disability benefits and the only reason you can't work is due to substance abuse, Social Security will deny your claim.
But many people who struggle with drug addiction have other health issues. For example, the previous substance abuse listing outlined several common related disorders that were caused by extensive, ongoing drug abuse, including:
If your medical records contain evidence of the above conditions or complications from drug abuse, you may be able to qualify for benefits if your drug abuse isn't material to your disability claim—meaning that your health wouldn't significantly improve or go away if you stopped using drugs.
Social Security generally won't hold substance abuse or drug addiction against you if you can show that you're disabled from another condition. But if the agency determines that your drug addiction is the main factor behind your functional limitations, the SSA will deny your claim.
For some conditions, deciding whether substance abuse is material isn't very difficult. Drug use won't be considered material if you're applying for disability because of an unrelated condition, such as thyroid cancer or degenerative disc disease. Even with impairments that were caused by drug addiction, like hepatitis, substance use isn't disqualifying if the disabling damage is already done.
But some conditions are a little trickier to analyze. Mental disorders often have symptoms that overlap or mimic those of substance abuse, and many people with mental disorders have "self-medicated" with drugs to reduce their symptoms. For example, symptoms that could indicate either mental illness or substance addiction include:
If you're applying for disability due to a mental disorder and have a history of drug addiction, the SSA will look for a period of sobriety to see how you function without interference from substance use. For more information, see our article on how Social Security evaluates drug addiction.
Because Social Security doesn't award disability benefits for substance abuse alone, you'll need to provide medical evidence showing that you have another disabling mental or physical condition. In either case, the agency will want to see that you've sought treatment for your addiction. (The SSA doesn't request documentation from support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous, but if you've been through any formal rehabilitation services, you should let the agency know so they can—with your permission—review those records.)
Winning a claim for disability benefits based on a mental impairment when you also have a history of substance abuse can be challenging. Make sure that you're upfront with your doctor about your struggles with addiction. The SSA is aware that recovery isn't easy, and won't penalize you for any relapses so long as you're honest with your medical providers.
The agency will want to see evidence of the following in your medical records:
In addition to any evidence showing that you've received treatment for a mental condition, Social Security will look for any potentially disabling limitations from physical impairments. Just like with mental impairments, the SSA will review your doctors' notes, hospitalization records, and prescribed medications. Additionally, the agency will look for:
For more information, see our article on what medical evidence Social Security needs in order to approve your disability claim.
When you apply for disability benefits with a history of substance abuse, you'll go through the same process as every applicant—just with the added step of proving that your substance abuse isn't material to your disability. You'll still need to show that:
For more information, see our articles on eligibility for SSDI or SSI.
Updated January 10, 2023