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Alcohol & Health
Helping Alcoholics
Where Does My Call Go?
Updated on July 31, 2023
6 min read

Is Alcoholism Considered a Disability?

Key Takeaways

  • Alcohol itself isn't a disability. However, impairment resulting from alcoholism may be classified as a disability.
  • Alcoholism can be considered both a physical or a mental disability.
  • The SSA can’t determine you as disabled solely on your diagnosis of alcoholism. However, many people with alcoholism have physical or behavioral issues that limit their ability to function, caused by alcoholism.
  • Disability benefits for people with impairments occurring from alcoholism include 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.

Is Alcoholism Considered a Disability?

A disability is any impairment of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for the person to perform certain activities and interact with the world around them.1

There’s a common link between disability and alcoholism. Although alcohol addiction can adversely affect the ability to operate daily, it isn’t categorized as a disability.

However, while addiction itself isn't a disability, impairment resulting from alcoholism can be classified as one.

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

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

Is Alcoholism a Physical or Mental Disability?

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 can be considered both a physical or mental disability, depending on the circumstances.

On the one hand, alcoholism is a physical condition affecting the body’s nervous system. 

Long-term alcohol consumption can cause serious physical health problems, including:

  • Liver disease
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Neurological damage

Alcoholism is also a mental health condition characterized by intense urges to drink alcohol despite negative consequences. 

The condition is also linked with mental health issues, including: 

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

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Can You Get on Disability 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

However, if you’re still drinking, this may disqualify you from disability benefits if the SSA thinks your medical condition could improve if you stop.

Disability Benefits for People with Alcoholism

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

Here are some of the 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

Can You Fire an Employee with Alcoholism?

The ADA makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against recovering alcoholics who have already sought treatment for their condition. 

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 because they look or act like they’re under the influence of substances.

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

For example:

  • Diabetes
  • Low blood sugar
  • Mental illness

These physical symptoms can include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Disorientation
  • A lack of coordination

People with these conditions are protected under the provisions of the ADA. Singling them out for testing or disciplinary action could lead to discrimination charges.


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Should I Tell My Employer I’m an Alcoholic?

The workplace can be a place where you receive support on your journey to recovery. 

Many organizations have procedures and resources to support people dealing with addiction. For example, your employer may be able to place you on unpaid leave while you begin your treatment plan.

Your employer must accommodate you as you recover from a substance use disorder. If you don’t disclose your alcoholism, there may be serious consequences for you and your employer.

It can be extremely dangerous for you to be under the influence at work, especially if it involves:

  • Heavy equipment
  • Vehicles
  • Manufacturing

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

Your employer can’t discriminate against you if you have a history of substance use but aren't currently using alcohol or drugs and have sought rehabilitation.


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Treatment Options for Alcoholism

There are various treatment options for alcoholism, thanks to the significant advances in the field over the past 60 years. 

However, 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.

Behavioral Treatments

Behavioral treatments aim to change drinking behavior through counseling. Health professionals lead them, and studies support that they can be beneficial.3


Three medications are currently approved in the US to help people stop or reduce their drinking. 

These medications are:3

  • Naltrexone
  • Acamprosate
  • Disulfiram

These medications also help prevent relapse. A primary care physician or other health professionals prescribe them.

Medication for alcoholism can be used alone. However, it’s often more effective in combination with other treatments like counseling.

Support Groups

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step programs offer peer support for people stopping or cutting back on their drinking.3 

Support groups are often combined with treatment led by health professionals. They can provide a valuable added layer of support.

Updated on July 31, 2023
6 sources cited
Updated on July 31, 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), 2022 
  3. Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2022
  4. Drake, Robert E, and Kim T Mueser. “Alcohol-Use Disorder and Severe Mental Illness.” Alcohol health and research world vol. 20, 1996
  5. Substance Abuse under the ADA, Sharing the Dream: Is the ADA Accommodating All?, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
  6. Rehm, Jürgen. “The risks associated with alcohol use and alcoholism.” Alcohol research & health : the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism vol. 34,2, 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.
© 2023 by Treatment Pathway LLC. All rights reserved.
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