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Updated on October 17, 2023
6 min read

Is Alcoholism Considered a Disability?

A disability is any physical or mental impairment that makes it more difficult for you to perform major life activities.1 Although alcohol addiction can adversely affect the ability to function daily, it isn’t categorized as a disability.

However, there’s a common link between disability and alcoholism. While addiction isn't a disability, impairment resulting from alcoholism can be classified as one.

This article covers how alcoholism can lead to disability, what disability benefits are available, and where you can find treatment options for your condition.

When Is Alcoholism Considered a Disability?

If alcohol abuse causes a co-occurring mental health problem or leads to organ failure, it may be diagnosed as a disability. This may also be the case if addiction significantly impacts a person’s life.

For example, if it’s impossible to work due to an alcohol-induced injury. Likewise, for some people, if a pre-existing medical condition or disability has caused alcohol abuse, they may be eligible for disability support.

Link Between Alcoholism and Disability

Another link between disability and alcoholism is that people with disabilities are typically affected by high rates of alcohol abuse and addiction. This can be for various reasons, including:

  • Trying to overcome physical pain
  • Coping with stress and frustration
  • Lacking alternative activities
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Is Alcoholism a Physical or Mental Disability?

Alcoholism can be considered a physical or mental disability, depending on the circumstances. Since 1965, the American Medical Association (AMA) has identified alcoholism as a disease characterized by:

  • Compulsive decision-making
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Relapse

The AMA's disease theory of alcoholism is based on the following criteria:

  • Biological in nature (illness exists in and of itself)
  • Doesn’t go away or heal on its own
  • Exhibits observable signs or symptoms
  • Is progressive (can get worse — even fatal — if left untreated)
  • Has a predictable timeline of development and recovery

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), presents physical and mental symptoms. If you believe you or someone you know has AUD, contact a healthcare provider to determine what treatment options to seek.

Physical and Mental Side Effects of Alcohol Addiction

Long-term alcohol consumption can cause serious physical health problems. It’s also a mental condition characterized by an intense urge to drink despite its negative consequences.

Many physical symptoms commonly associated with intoxication can also result from a severe physical disability or medical condition.

Physical side effects of alcoholism include:

  • Liver disease
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Neurological damage
  • Diabetes
  • Lack of coordination

Alcoholism is also linked with mental health issues, such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Learning and memory problems
  • Disorientation
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Can You Get Disability Benefits for Alcoholism?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) can’t determine you as disabled solely on your alcoholism diagnosis. However, many people with alcoholism have physical or behavioral issues that limit their ability to function, which are caused by alcohol use.

The qualifiers for a disability for a substance addiction disorder include having one of the following conditions:

  • Neurocognitive disorder
  • Depressive syndrome
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Liver damage
  • Gastritis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Seizures

If you’re still drinking while having the conditions above, you may be disqualified from disability benefits if the SSA thinks your medical condition could improve if you stop.

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Disability Benefits for People with Alcoholism

A person with a disability related to alcoholism qualifies for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). They may receive certain benefits to help support them financially and access specific resources.

Here are some benefits associated with these programs:

Monthly Financial Assistance

SSDI and SSI provide monthly financial payments to those qualified for disability benefits. For SSI, the amount depends on personal circumstances and the specific program.

SSDI benefits are based on the person’s work history and earnings. SSDI benefits depend on financial need and have a maximum federal benefit rate that some states may supplement.

Health Insurance Coverage

Those receiving SSDI are eligible for Medicare following a 24-month waiting period from the date of entitlement. Medicare benefits cover:

  • Hospital insurance (Part A)
  • Medical insurance (Part B)
  • Prescription drug coverage (Part D)

SSI qualifiers typically receive Medicaid benefits. Medicaid is a state and federal program that provides health coverage for low-income families and individuals.

Medicaid coverage differs by state. However, Medicaid usually includes:

  • Hospital care
  • Doctor visits
  • Prescription medications
  • Mental health services
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Can Your Employer Fire You for Alcoholism?

Your employer can’t fire you if you have an alcohol addiction or are a recovering alcoholic. The Americans with disabilities act (ADA) makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against those who have sought treatment for drug or alcohol abuse.

Under the terms of the ADA:2

  • Employers can’t fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote someone because they have a history of substance use.
  • Employers also can’t fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote employees because they’re enrolled in an alcohol rehab program.

Employers with alcohol and drug-testing programs need to be careful not to single out staff members for testing if they appear or act like they’re intoxicated. Targeting them for testing or disciplinary action could lead to discrimination charges.

Should I Tell My Employer I’m an Alcoholic?

Your employer must accommodate you as you seek treatment and recover from a substance use disorder. However, they have no duty to accommodate an employee who hasn’t asked for it or denies their disability.

If you don’t disclose your alcoholism, there may be severe consequences for you and your employer. It can be extremely dangerous for you to be under the influence at work.

Especially if your work involves the following:

  • Heavy equipment
  • Vehicles
  • Manufacturing

In these cases, mishaps resulting from substance misuse can be fatal.

How Can Your Employer Accommodate Your Addiction Recovery

Many organizations have procedures and resources to support people dealing with addiction. They’ll typically provide reasonable accommodations, such as:

  • Placing you on unpaid leave while you begin your treatment plan
  • Adjusting your work schedule so you can attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings
  • Accommodating for side effects like depression

Some states, like California, have specific laws requiring certain employers to accommodate employees who enter a drug or alcohol rehabilitation program. However, an employer isn’t required to provide a leave for an alcoholic employee who is unresponsive to attempts at treatment.

Treatment Options for Alcoholism

There are various treatment options for alcoholism, thanks to the significant advances in the field over the past 60 years. Since every case of AUD is unique, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. What may work for one person may not for another.

Here are some of the most common treatment options for alcoholism:

Summary

Alcoholism itself isn't a disability. However, impairment resulting from alcoholism may be classified as a disability. Many people with alcoholism have physical or behavioral issues that limit their ability to function, including their work.

If an alcohol-related condition qualifies as a disability, the SSA can provide benefits like health insurance coverage and monthly financial assistance. Under the ADA, it’s illegal for employers to discriminate against recovering alcoholics who’ve already sought treatment for their condition. They’ll also need to provide reasonable accommodation for your condition, such as extended leaves or modified schedules.

If you or someone you know is dealing with alcoholism, contact an addiction specialist to seek proper treatment.

Updated on October 17, 2023
6 sources cited
Updated on October 17, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. ”Disability and Health Overview.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2020.
  2. ”Federal Laws and Regulations.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 2023.
  3. ”Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023.
  4. Castillo-Carniglia et al. “Psychiatric comorbidities in alcohol use disorder.” Lancet Psychiatry, National Library of Medicine, 2019.
  5. ”Sharing the Dream: Is the ADA Accommodating All?” U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2000.
  6. Rehm, J. “The Risks Associated With Alcohol Use And Alcoholism.” Alcohol Research & Health, National Library of Medicine, 2011.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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