Law Firm Blog

How Does Drug or Alcohol Abuse Affect My SSD Claim?

Under federal law, substance abuse could be a contributing factor to a physical, emotional, or other disability. In fact, in some cases, substance abuse could be a disqualifying condition. Basically, Social Security Disability replaces wages for people who cannot work. So, if an SSD recipient is capable of employment, the SSA cuts off benefits. To draw the line between contributing and disqualifying, the SSA focuses on the two questions outlined below.

Additionally, the SSA could re-evaluate a disability claim if the recipient develops a drug or alcohol habit. Such re-evaluations are common, and not just for substance abuse issues. Medical conditions sometimes improve, especially as new medication becomes available. However, that is only part of the story. A Tampa Social Security lawyer ensures that a state Disability Determination Services officer hears the entire story. Not all people can tolerate all medications. Additionally, the economic climate may make employment impossible, even if the recipient is only marginally disabled.

Does Substance Use Cause, or Worsen, a Physical or Other Disability?

Disabled people often self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a good example. Very few new PTSD drugs have hit the shelves in the last 20 years. Furthermore, some of the more promising treatments involve illegal substances, like marijuana or MDMA (ecstasy or 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine). As a result, many people with PTSD get desperate.

Frequently, such self-medication is the difference between complex PTSD, a condition that is normally disabling, and comorbid PTSD, a condition that’s almost always disabling.

In these cases, a Tampa Social Security lawyer must prove that the victim’s complex PTSD was completely disabling, and the substance abuse just made the disability worse. As far as the SSA is concerned, there is no such thing as slightly or mostly disabled. Victims are disabled or they are not.

Many Social Security doctors are not fully familiar with the different PTSD grades. An independent medical examination usually provides the necessary evidence in these situations. A more experienced doctor can distinguish between involuntary and voluntary disabilities. In this case, that’s the difference between complex and comorbid PTSD.

Could the Recipient Work if They Were Not Using a Substance?

Medical evidence usually answers the first question. The second inquiry focuses more on the educational and vocational aspects of a disability, as opposed to its medical aspects.

State DDS officers often only have medical evidence in their files. They usually do not have the tools to address a nonmedical issue. The necessary tools usually include statements from friends and family members and a vocational expert’s report.

When they describe their symptoms, most doctors listen to most patients for about 11 seconds. Therefore, the physician has clinical information but no practical information. Friend and family statements provide the missing piece. These individuals cannot testify about the person’s disability. But they can testify about the effects of that disability.

Let’s go back to PTSD. Mike may not accurately testify about things like panic attacks. The brain conceals its own injuries. However, Mike’s wife could testify about the intensity and frequency of these attacks.

Similarly, a vocational expert provides badly needed expert testimony. Vocational experts evaluate an individual’s realistic employment opportunities, given economic conditions at the time, the applicant’s educational background, medical condition, and more. For example, if employers need workers, someone might give a person like Mike a chance. However, in most cases, he is unemployable.

Connect With a Dedicated Hillsborough County Social Security Disability Lawyer

SSD cases are quite complex, particularly if drugs or alcohol are in the picture. For a free consultation with an experienced Social Security lawyer in Tampa, contact the Rooth Law Firm. We have several office locations throughout the Tampa Bay area.