Does Addiction Qualify As A Disability?

Substance use disorders are classified as disabilities under US law, granting certain legal protections to those who experience them.

Addiction is considered a disability in the United States, including the state of Ohio.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diagnosable drug and alcohol use disorders, collectively known as substance use disorders or SUDs, are valid disabilities under federal laws, including: 

  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
  • the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)

The ADA in particular prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and ensures that those who have struggled with a pattern of harmful but compulsive substance abuse are provided with the same opportunities and rights as any other American.

However, there are some important details that those who experience an SUD should be aware of.

What Constitutes A Disability?

According to the ADA, a person has a disability if they:

  • have a physical or mental impairment that impacts one or more major life activities (walking, seeing, caring for oneself, learning, working, thinking, communicating, etc.)
  • have a history of such impairment (including someone who has recovered from an SUD)
  • are regarded (believed by an authority) to have such an impairment

Under these criteria, substance use disorders are considered to be a disability due to their impact on brain and bodily functions. 

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Substance Use Disorders & Alcohol Use Disorders

The ADA considers alcohol use disorders and illicit substance use disorders differently in one key way.

An alcohol use disorder is considered a disability whether a person’s abuse of alcohol either occurred in the past or is occurring in the present. 

In contrast, other forms of SUD are only protected when a person is no longer engaging in the current illegal use of those drugs, though they did abuse them in the past.

What Disability Protections Mean For Addiction

According to the text of the ADA, an employer may not discriminate against someone with a past history of drug addiction who is not currently using drugs, nor may they discriminate due to past or present alcohol abuse. 

They may not ask for information on job applications or even during the interview related to disabilities (including past drug abuse or alcohol abuse), and they may not require a medical exam.

Employers & Current Drug Use

Any current illegal drug use is not considered a disability, meaning that an employer is able to prohibit illegal use of drugs and alcohol in the workplace, require drug testing for current or prospective employees, and fire or refuse to hire someone who is currently abusing drugs illegally.

Employers can also hold employees who currently use or have used drugs and alcohol in the past to the same standards of performance and conduct as any other employee.

Note that the ADA only applies to private employers with 15 or more employees, as well as all state and local governments. However, some state non-discrimination laws do cover private employers with less than 15 employees as well. 

This includes Ohio, which bars discriminatory practices among employers with 4 or more employees.

Disability Benefits For Drug/Alcohol Addiction

The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs provide assistance to people with disabilities under certain circumstances, including funding for behavioral health treatment.

While the SSDI pays benefits to those who are “insured” (those who have worked long enough and recently enough to qualify for disability benefits), the SSI provides benefits to persons with disabilities who have little to no income or cash and who struggle to meet their basic needs or access health care.

Social Security Administration (SSA)

The Social Security Administration (SSA), however, does not consider an SUD to be a qualifying disability on its own. 

SSA disability benefits are only available to those with an SUD when they also have a qualifying impairment or disability that exists beyond their drug or alcohol use.

This means that, in order to receive social security disability benefits for the treatment of drug or alcohol addiction, a person would need to:

  • establish that they have a disability
  • confirm medical evidence of their SUD
  • determine that their impairment would continue even after recovering from the use of drugs or alcohol

If you are eligible for these benefits, you must receive treatment at an approved facility while complying with all program requirements.

Examples Of Qualifying Disabilities

A wide range of medical conditions can qualify as a disability, including mental disorders like schizophrenia or dementia, amputation, blindness, cancer, autoimmune disorders, Down syndrome, and more.

Many such conditions are associated with a higher prevalence of substance abuse and substance use disorders, as well as related problems like homelessness, incarceration, and suicide.

If you or a loved one struggle with some form of substance addiction it is vital that you find the right treatment solution. At Ohio Recovery Center, we offer leading inpatient treatment services, including dual diagnosis care for secondary mental health issues.

Call today to learn more.

  1. ADA National Network
  2. Social Security Administration (SSA)
  3. Social Security Administration (SSA)
  4. Social Security Administration (SSA)

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

Published on: November 6, 2023

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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