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Does Addiction Qualify As A Disability?

Dr. Gerardo Sison

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Gerardo Sison

April 1, 2019

There is no simple answer on whether or not addiction qualifies as a disability. The classification of addiction depends on a variety of factors that make it a disease for some but not for others.

Substance abuse, or addiction, can be undeniably debilitating for some people. In fact, a 2013 survey called National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that more than 24 million Americans had abused illicit drugs.

These drugs included the following:

  • marijuana
  • prescription drugs
  • heroin
  • cocaine
  • hallucinogens
  • inhalants

Each comes with its own range of side effects, some short-term and some long-term. There is no question that prolonged abuse of illicit drugs may cause harmful effects to the body. Further, we now know that substance abuse actually changes the composition of the brain, causing people affected to repeatedly seek substances. But does substance abuse qualify as a disability?

The answer is not easy or clear cut. Many people live with substance abuse and understand that it is, in fact, a disorder. Physicians recognize this disease as one that has the potential to cause severe harm to a person’s health, or worse. Still, substance abuse is not always legally confirmed as a disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides some insight into this issue.

Disability Recognition Due To Substance Abuse Disorders

Currently, it is not possible to receive disability benefits in the United States strictly for substance abuse disorders. However, people do have protected rights for substance abuse disorders under the ADA, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. There is an important distinction to make here: the distinction between “use” and “abuse” of drugs. Casual use is not protected under the ADA. It is defined as recreational and occasional use of drugs. In contrast, substance abuse, prolonged use, may be covered under the ADA. As the U.S. Department of Justice explains, “only individuals who are addicted to drugs, have a history of addiction, or are regarded as being addicted have an impairment under the law.”

For substance abuse to qualify as a disability under the law, it has to majorly affect and limit life’s major activities. While this may seem like a requirement that’s easy to meet for many who suffer, it is dual-sided. This stipulation under the ADA holds that, to meet this definition, a person cannot currently be abusing substances.

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Substance Abuse As A Disability—What It Means

If you cannot receive disability benefits under the ADA for substance abuse, why is it useful to have your abuse defined as a disability? Under the blanket of this definition, people afflicted with addiction have certain protected rights. This helps avoid any discriminatory practices or oppression a person may face otherwise. For instance, an employer may not discriminate against a person with a past history of substance abuse during the hiring process. This is specific to substance abuse. In other words, this definition does not apply to current substance abuse, or to criminal records associated with past substance abuse.

Treatment For Substance Abuse And How To Get It

Whether or not the law recognizes how debilitating substance abuse can be, those affected by it know the crippling results abuse can have on a person’s life. Physical, emotional, social, and familial repercussions can be severe, and could last longer than the substance abuse disorder. Treatment is a harsh process, but substance abuse can be harsher. But with so many effective treatment methods available, recovery is within your reach.

To start the recovery journey, there are a few things to consider. First, does a person require the all-encompassing inpatient treatment environment? With treatment in a rehabilitation facility, a person can get assistance in recovery and medical monitoring when needed. Some people heal more easily at home, and this method requires a fully dedicated support system.

Also, important to consider is the issue of cost. Certain treatment plans can take up to months to complete, and this can produce a hefty bill. Luckily, there are many programs in place to help a person with the financial side of things. State-funded programs, grants, scholarships, and state insurance may all contribute to payment. Some centers even offer sliding fee pay scales for participants who meet qualifications.

Finally, treatment should be a comprehensive process. Since substance abuse affects both the mind and body, recovery plans should address care for each. Any co-occurring disorders should also be targeted to best ensure recovery.

In any case, treatment requires cursory information and connection to resources. With such a big decision, you may want all the help you can get.

Mapping The Road To Recovery

Every person has his or her own burdens to carry in life. Don’t let substance abuse be your burden anymore. If you are struggling, or if you are watching someone close to you suffer every day, and you want to help them find a way out, you can get the help you need. If you contact us today at, you will reach a team of professionals ready to aid you in your new path. Call us today for more information, and to get in touch with resources for your recovery.

Disability Benefits Help - Drug Addiction And Social Security Disability

National Institute On Drug Abuse - DrugFacts: Nationwide Trends

U.S. Commission On Civil Rights - Chapter 4: Substance Abuse Under The ADA

U.S. Department Of Justice - Questions And Answers: The Americans With Disabilities Act

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