According to a recent study conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 14.4 million Americans suffer from alcoholism. Up until 1996, you could qualify for disability benefits through Social Security Administration (SSA) if you were an alcoholic. Since then, you have to demonstrate that your alcoholism created other alcohol-related impairments, and those impairments are the reason you cannot work.
Know that SSA takes these claims seriously and will not treat them differently just because your inability to work is caused by your alcohol addiction. SSA will deny your claim for an alcohol-related disability, however, if you are still drinking, and SSA believes that if you stopped drinking your condition would improve to the point where you could work. SSA may even require you to quit drinking for 30 days to see if your symptoms improve.
Chronic alcoholism can cause many behavioral and/or physical changes in the body and mind that limit sufferers’ ability to function and interact with others in a work environment. Some of these conditions have listings of their own in SSA’s blue book, and if you meet the criteria for those, you will qualify for benefits. Alcohol-related impairments include: liver damage; gastritis; pancreatitis; depressive syndrome; anxiety disorders; peripheral neuropathies; seizures; and neurocognitive disorders.
Most liver damage in the United States is caused by alcohol abuse. Alcoholism is also the most common cause of gastritis, which is the result of the stomach lining becoming inflamed. Inflammation of the pancreas results in pancreatitis. Alcoholism can also cause or exacerbate depression and anxiety, and those conditions will be evaluated under SSA’s listing for mood disorders.
Peripheral neuropathies occur when the peripheral nervous system has been damaged. Since this part of the nervous system is involved in transmitting information from the brain throughout the body and vice versa, any damage to it can have disastrous, full-body effects. Many alcoholics have a thiamine deficiency, which causes pain in the extremities. Additionally, alcohol abuse can cause seizures, even in people who are not epileptic.
Lastly, neurocognitive disorders can be seen by a decline in mental functioning that is often caused by damage to the brain. The listing for neurocognitive disorders requires you to prove a cognitive deficit, which could include difficulties with language, poor social judgment, decreased coordination, memory loss, or distractibility. You must also show that this deficit limits your functional abilities.
Remember that using alcohol does not make you an alcoholic. Rather, alcoholism is the result of a pattern of repeatedly using alcohol in a dysfunctional way to the point where it has consequences for you work life, social activities, and/or family life. If alcohol abuse caused irreversible affects, it should be considered legitimate in evaluating whether you are disabled.