Dealing With Drug Abuse When You’re Disabled

Calendar Icon Updated May 17, 2019
Social Security Disability

Studies have shown that if you’re disabled, you are at a higher risk of drug and alcohol abuse than the general population. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disability, 10 percent of the population has problems with alcohol and 5 percent have problems with drugs. Unfortunately, people with disabilities have drug and alcohol issues as much as four times the rate of the general population. That number increases to about 50 percent of severely disabled people, such as those who have spinal cord or traumatic brain injuries, amputations or mental illnesses.

There are a variety of factors that contribute to this:

  • Because many disabled people take pain medications and relaxants, they are more readily available. Using them on a regular and prolonged basis also increases the possibility of dependence or misuse.
  • Disabled people are often limited in their mobility, and therefore more likely to turn to medications for pain relief, lessening the feelings of social isolation or depression.
  • There’s a higher probability that those around a disabled person such as a caregiver or a family member may be a medication enabler. Doctors routinely overprescribe pain medications and family members, often times subconsciously or through lack of education, overmedicate a disabled family member.

Healthy individuals face a string of challenges trying to kick substance abuse, but for the disabled, the stakes are raised even more. Prolonged exposure to alcohol and drugs can have severe health consequences including internal organ damage, malnutrition, and increased likelihood of bone fractures and infections, among other maladies.

The disabilities that are contributing factors to increased drug and alcohol abuse are also the same barriers to treatment. People with disabilities face challenges in accessing treatment programs, from initially learning about them to physically being able to be transported to them on a regular basis, as well as many other limiting issues.

But the good news is, resources to help the disabled deal with drug and alcohol abuse are available.

The U.S. Department of Labor, in conjunction with 21 federal agency partners, operates Disability.gov. This is a comprehensive site that offers information and resources on a wide range of disability programs and services. One of the main areas on the site is a guide to Health Information and Resources which also includes substance abuse resources. Because the site is a clearinghouse for information, visitors are redirected to specific agencies and providers to get the help they need.

One of the more notable organizations offering assistance is the National Association on Alcohol, Drugs and Disability. Through an aggressive effort to share information, NAADD’s mission is to connect the disabled with support organizations who can help access resources and recovery programs. NAADD also advocates to policy makers about the special needs that the disabled have in recovery, bringing greater awareness to a chronic and considerable issue.

The question sometimes arises as to whether or not a person can collect Social Security Disability if they have a drug abuse problem. The short answer is maybe.

If a person meets the requirements to be considered disabled and they have a drug problem, if that drug problem is not related to the disability, then the answer is yes. For example, if a person has cancer but is also addicted to alcohol, then Social Security should approve disability payments.

But if a person applies for disability benefits for a condition such as emphysema and is addicted to cigarettes, Social Security will consider that a contributing factor to the emphysema and deny a claim.

If you are not currently addicted to drugs or alcohol, but have a history of abuse, you may or may not be able to gain approval of a claim. Under this circumstance, it can be advisable to retain an attorney to review your medical records to help you make your best case to Social Security officials.

Eligibility Team

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