The fact that an individual suffers from substance abuse may have an adverse impact on a claim for Social Security disability. Social Security calls this DAA which is short for “drug addiction and alcoholism”. The essential question is whether the individual is disabled by other medical impairments which are independent of continued alcoholism or drug abuse. So, for example, an individual with organic brain damage — even though it results from longtime alcohol or drug use — would be disabling even if he/she stopped abusing drugs or alcohol. DAA would not be a bar to benefits.
The tricky issue in DAA cases is that many substance abusers use drugs to self-medicate to relieve symptoms of physical pain and/or emotional distress. To the extent that those other disorders would still exist at a severe level or possibly become worse, in the absence of drugs or alcohol, those impairments may be independently disabling. However, it may be essential to be drug-free or alcohol-free long enough to have the other impairments evaluated.
Under the Social Security’s policy, the question is whether drug addiction or alcoholism is a “contributing factor material to a finding of disability”. The key question in this inquiry is whether the individual would be found disabled based upon all remaining mental and physical impairments if he/she stopped using drugs or alcohol. If not, then alcoholism or drug addiction is a contributing factor material to the determination of disability and benefits will be denied. DAA does not include the following: fetal alcohol syndrome, fetal cocaine exposure, or addiction to, or use of, prescription medications taken as prescribed. Moreover, Social Security states that a person’s occasional use, or a history of occasional use, of alcohol or illegal drugs does not establish that the claimant has a medically determinable substance use disorder.