New Social Security Administration Ruling Clarifies Stance on Drug Addiction and Alcoholism

On March 22, a new “Social Security Ruling” (SSR 13-2p) will take affect, clarifying the Social Security Administration’s stance on the impact of drug addiction and alcoholism (DAA) to a determination of disability.

Preliminarily, though ‘drug addiction’ and ‘alcoholism’ may not be terms of art in the medical/mental health communities, they continue to be used throughout SSA regulations and rules.  Simply put, this is because these words are contained in the language of the Social Security Act (the federal statute that grants authority to the SSA).  Nevertheless, the rulings and regulations are conscious of modern approaches to these issues.  And this new rule, specifically, often cites directly to the DSM-IV-TR (the latest diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association).

In general, the SSA does not permit a claimant to be considered for disability benefits “if alcoholism or drug addiction would be a contributing factor material to the Commissioner’s determination that the individual is disabled.”  In other words, when a claimant seeks to be classified as disabled—for any SSA-related program—the agency must consider a claimant’s drug and alcohol addiction.  If the agency determines that the claimant would not be disabled were he or she to stop using drugs or alcohol, then that usage is “material.”  And, if material, that usage prevents the claimant from receiving disability benefits.

The new ruling builds on this foundation, and—in (relatively) plain English—asks and answers a series of 15 questions on the topic.

For example, question 10 (one of the shortest sections) asks the following:

“(10) How do we evaluate a claimant’s credibility in cases involving DAA?

We do not have special rules for evaluating a claimant’s credibility in cases involving DAA.  Adjudicators must not presume that all claimants with DAA are inherently less credible than other claimants.  We will apply our policy in [a related rule] and our regulations as in any other case, considering the facts of each case.  In addition, adjudicators must consider a claimant’s co-occurring mental disorder(s) when they evaluate the credibility of the claimant’s allegations.”

Hopefully, this new rule will help clarify the DAA issue for both legal practitioners and claimants alike—and allow those that are permitted to seek help to receive it.

For an article on the rule, see  For the rule itself, see