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Does Alcoholism Qualify You for Disability Benefits?

Alcohol is a psychoactive substance with dependence-producing properties that has been used widely in many cultures for centuries. Alcohol may be one of the most recognizable substances on this planet, yet it produces such devastating effects on those who consume it, and in many cases, those who don’t drink it. The harmful use of the substance causes disease, social and economic burden, and more often than not, death. 

Environmental factors such as economic development, culture, availability of alcohol, and the level and effectiveness of alcohol policies are relevant factors in explaining the difference and historical trends in alcohol consumption and related harm. Alcohol-related harm is typically determined by the volume of alcohol consumed, the pattern of drinking, and, on rare occasions, the quality of alcohol consumed.

The harmful use of alcohol is a primary cause of more than 200 disease and injury conditions in individuals, most notably alcohol dependence, liver cirrhosis, cancers, and injuries. Alcohol consumption is also linked to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

One of the most startling facts, when it relates to alcohol, is that a substance that causes so much harm, disease, and death is legally and widely accepted in virtually every culture around the globe. While some countries remain “dry countries,” the widespread use of the substance is burdening not just the United States, but the world as well. Alcohol is considered the fourth leading preventable cause of death. With all that said, does alcoholism qualify you for disability benefits?

While alcoholism and addiction are not accepted as a disease rather than a series of poor choices, many factors do still play in when it comes to qualifying as a disability. Moreover, the most recent statistics of alcoholism show just how many are affected by this disease. In 2012, 3.3 million net deaths, or 5.9 percent of all global deaths were attributable to alcohol consumption. In the United States alone, 2015 saw 88,000 deaths due to alcoholism. 

The numbers are poised to climb higher when the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism release a more recent report in the future. The United States, on average, feels the economic burden of around $249 billion per year, which three-quarters of alcohol misuse stem from binge drinking.

There is no dispute that alcohol is damaging to our health, but at what point does alcoholism become a disability? Excessive drinking includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, and any drinking by pregnant women or people younger than 21. Most people who drink excessively are not deemed alcoholics, or even alcohol dependent, but can still be at risk for short-term health risks. 

Excessive drinking can lead to injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings, or burns. Violence can also result from excessive drinking, such as homicide, suicide, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence. Alcohol poisoning is also common for those who abuse alcohol, and they continue drinking at levels that become dangerous to their immediate health. At a certain point, this behavior can cause some type of disability.

Below we will delve deeper into what will constitute being able to qualify and apply for disability benefits when it relates to alcohol consumption.

Facts About Alcoholism

Alcoholism is when the body is physically dependent upon alcohol, and it has been described as a condition, and uncontrollable craving, an addiction, and chronic disease. It is a dependency upon the substance to function, and regardless of the adverse effects it can have on a person’s life, they cannot stop drinking. Abrupt cessation or “cold-turkey” means of stopping alcohol use can result in severe withdrawal symptoms, and in some cases, death.

The only way to develop alcoholism is to drink, but the amount and frequency will vary from one person to another. It is thought that nearly 90 percent of all American adults consume alcohol, and close to 700,000 of them seek help for alcoholism through treatment. The disorder can cause significant effects, and it affects mental health, physical health, and contributes to social problems. Alcoholism is the second leading cause of dementia in Western countries.

As we mentioned above, withdrawal from alcohol can be deadly. Ironically, it is less common to die from heroin or cocaine withdrawal unless there are preexisting severe health concerns, but it is common for a healthy person to perish from alcohol withdrawal. Withdrawal can cause seizures, damage to nerve cells, trembling shaking, and death.

Qualifying for Disability Benefits with Alcoholism

The Social Security Administration (SSA) cannot find you disabled based solely on your diagnosis of chronic alcoholism. However, many of those who struggle with alcoholism have physical or behavioral changes as a result of their disease. These changes can limit their ability to function in a work situation, and their chronic use of alcohol causes that. The SSA will not treat your claim differently because your impairment is a result of chronic alcoholism. If you are still drinking, however, and the SSA believes that if you stopped drinking your medical conditions would improve to the point of not being disabled, you will not get disability benefits.

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If your condition meets the requirement of the Social Security Administration’s disability listing for one of the disorders we discuss below, and if your impairment would still meet the requirements even though you quit drinking alcohol, you will be found disabled.

Neurocognitive Disorders

A decline in mental functioning marks neurocognitive disorders, often they are caused by damage to the brain, either through injury or degenerative disease. One example of this is something known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, which is caused by chronic alcohol use. The listing requires you to have a cognitive deficit such as memory loss, distractibility, decreased judgment, difficulties with language, decreased coordination, or poor social judgment. You must be able to show how your deficit limits your functional abilities.

Depressive Syndrome

Depression, which is caused or exacerbated by alcoholism can be considered a disability. Since depression is a crippling disorder that can remove someone from participating in daily functions, it is regarded as an issue that will qualify for disability.

Anxiety Disorders

Alcohol is known to cause long-term anxiety, and this disorder is considered a disability according to SSA.

Liver Damage

Most liver disease in the country is caused by chronic alcohol consumption, and liver damage due to alcohol abuse is a common reason listed on disability applications.

Pancreatitis

Another damaging effect of alcohol is gastritis, which occurs when the stomach lining becomes inflamed. The SSA will evaluate this on a case by case basis, and it can be considered a listed disability for the digestive system.

Seizures

Heavy drinking can lead to seizures, even if the drinker has no history of epilepsy. The SSA can evaluate this as something that leads to long-term disability, and it will be determined whether seizures can interfere with your employment. For example, someone diagnosed with seizures cannot operate heavy machinery, and if that is your line of work, you will not be able to fulfill your job obligations.

Sources

Nordqvist, C. (2018, February 06). Alcoholic liver disease: Symptoms, treatment, and causes. from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/215638.php

Depression (major depressive disorder). (2018, February 03). from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20356007

Newman, T. (2018, February 21). Alcohol use disorder is a 'major risk factor' for dementia. from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320969.php

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC – Fact Sheets-Alcohol Use And Health – Alcohol. (n.d.). from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

Alcohol. (2014, May 12). from https://www.who.int/substance_abuse/facts/alcohol/en/

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