Tips for SSI/SSDI Applicants with Drug or Alcohol Use in Their Medical Records
Did you know that prior or current use of illicit substances or alcohol abuse can negatively impact your ability to obtain disability benefits from Social Security? Here are some tips that you should keep in mind as you prepare your own case, or when you take your case to an attorney.
Be Honest with YourselfFirst, be honest with yourself. Will your medical records list any issues with drugs or alcohol? This would include any statements you have made to your doctors, as well as suspicions doctors or hospitals have had. For example, if you have sought pain medications at multiple facilities or Emergency Departments there may be references in your records to a possible "drug seeking behavior." Don't let shame or embarrasment keep you from acknowledging and addressing these issues as soon as possible.
Be Honest with OthersHaving drug or alcohol problems can seriously impact your case for benefits and make it much more difficult to win. You should do everything you can to get an attorney to take your case. Ask if that attorney has experience with this issue. The earlier on you address any potential references to drugs or alcohol in your records with your attorney or advocate, the better they will be able to advise you and represent you. Remember the most important thing you can do at your hearing is to be found "credible" or truthful by the Judge. If you lie or try to hide your addictions, and they are present in your medical records, the Judge will know and will be unlikely to believe anything else you say about your condition.
Find Ways to Show that the Drug or Alcohol Issue is Not "Material" to Your CaseIf you have significant drug or alcohol abuse in your record, Social Security must decide if the drug or alcohol use impacts your disability. If it does, Social Security must determine whether it is "material" to your functioning. Basically, this means whether you would be capable of working if you just took away the drug or alcohol use. You can help show Social Security that it is not material by pointing to periods of sobriety during which you continued to be disabled, or showing that your conditions existed before the drug or alcohol use, or providing medical evidence that your conditions are not affected or made worse by the drug or alcohol use. Again, it is important that you try to get an attorney to help you present this evidence.
Seek Professional Medical Help to get "Clean"One of the best things you can do, not just for your disability case but for your overall health, is to seek professional medical help for your addictions. Start this process as soon as you able to. You can find help by speaking to your doctor, or by calling your local crisis center or substance abuse help line. If you can show Social Security that you got treatment and have remained sober for a period of time prior to the hearing and that your conditions have remained debilitating, you are much more likely to be able to win your case.