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Will Alcohol Addiction Prevent Me From Receiving Disability Benefits?

Posted on in Denied Social Security Benefits

Chicago social security benefits attorney alcohol abuseMany Illinois residents suffer from alcohol or drug addiction. Such conditions can substantially impair a person's ability to maintain gainful employment. Unfortunately, Social Security tends to treat addiction as a moral failing rather than a medical condition. According to federal regulations, drug and alcohol addiction are not impairments that qualify an individual for disability benefits. In fact, Social Security may reject an applicant with other impairments if it determines that drug addiction or alcoholism is a “contributing material factor” towards their disability. 

Court Holds Applicant Not Legally Disabled, Regardless of Alcoholism

In plain English, if Social Security thinks you would be fine to work if you stopped drinking, it will find that you are not legally disabled. The burden of proof is on you, as the applicant, to prove that alcoholism is not material to your disability. This is in addition to the burden all applicants must meet to prove they have a disability in the first place.

A recent decision by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago, Barrett v. Berryhill, offers a helpful illustration. This case involved a disability applicant who suffered from bipolar disorder and alcoholism. According to the applicant, he “started drinking as a teenager,” and by the age of 27, he was “drinking one to two six-packs a day, for five days per week.” After the applicant stopped working in 2009, his condition worsened. Eventually, he was formally diagnosed with alcohol dependence. In 2011, the applicant entered a 13-month recovery program, which he successfully completed in January 2013.

Although the applicant is now capable of working–he actually graduated from law school–he sought Social Security disability benefits for the period from 2009, when he stopped working due to his condition, until his discharge from rehab in 2013. A Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) rejected the applicant's claim, however, finding that “even when considering impairments from his alcoholism in conjunction with the others,” the applicant was still capable of performing “simple, repetitive, unskilled work” during the period of his alleged disability. 

The applicant appealed the ALJ's decision internally, and later to the federal courts. At each step, his appeals were denied. The Seventh Circuit, affirming a federal magistrate's earlier ruling, explained that contrary to the applicant's arguments, the ALJ did not incorrectly conclude that “his alcoholism was material to his disability.” Rather, the ALJ found he “was never disabled even with his alcohol addiction,” and therefore, there was no need for further analysis. But even if this analysis had been required, the appeals court noted the record contained “substantial evidence that [the applicant's] alcoholism was in fact material to his disability.” Indeed, the applicant himself admitted he sought treatment primarily for alcohol addiction, not bipolar disorder or any other mental health condition.

Get Help From an Illinois Disability Benefits Lawyer

Alcohol or drug addiction does not disqualify someone from receiving disability benefits, but it can make pursuing a claim more difficult. This is why you need to work with a qualified Chicago Social Security disability attorney who understands the law in this area. Call Pearson Disability Law, LLC at 312-999-0999 to schedule a consultation with an attorney today.



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