Does Alcoholism Affect SSD?

Imagine that you encounter two people, both of whom are applying for Social Security Disability. One is an army veteran who was diagnosed with cancer after experiencing chemical exposure while serving overseas. The other is an alcoholic who is suffering from liver damage after years of heavy drinking. Are they both qualified to receive SSD?

In certain circumstances, the answer is yes—and to some, that might seem unfair. Why should someone receive benefits for a health issue that was caused by their own choice to abuse alcohol?

What is Alcoholism?

To understand why alcoholism can lead to SSD benefits, it’s important to understand how alcohol affects the brain. When someone consumes alcohol, it alters the amount of neurotransmitters within the brain’s chemistry. Neurotransmitters, which transmit signals to the rest of the body, are either excitatory, which means they stimulate brain activity, or inhibitory, which means they decrease brain activity. Alcohol increases inhibitory transmitters, which leads to sluggish movements and slurred speech as the electrical activity in the brain slows down.

At the same time, alcohol also increases the amount of dopamine, a chemical that creates a feeling of pleasure. This means that even though someone might experience  slowed brain activity, they will also feel pleasure when drinking alcohol.

Overtime, people with alcoholism become dependent on this pleasurable feeling. But as they develop a tolerance, they have to drink more and more in order to experience the pleasure of dopamine, which leads to an alcohol addiction.

The Consequences of Alcoholism

When someone has alcoholism, they may experience a range of physical and mental symptoms, including:

  • Memory impairment
  • Changes in behavior, like aggression or an increased risk of self-destructive behavior
  • Blackouts from heavy alcohol consumption
  • Shakiness
  • Cravings

When someone attempts to stop drinking alcohol, they might also exhibit signs of withdrawal. These symptoms often include nausea and vomiting, muscle pain, headaches, anxiety, and sleep problems, but withdrawal can also be severe enough to cause seizures, hallucinations, and heart palpitations.  The intense symptoms of withdrawal make it difficult—and dangerous—for people to suddenly quit drinking, even if they want to stop.

Along with the symptoms of alcoholism and withdrawal, alcohol abuse can have long-term health consequences. From neurological issues to stomach problems, alcoholism can lead to a wide variety of health complications, some of which are life-threatening or severely debilitating.  Some health complications caused or exacerbated by alcoholism include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Peripheral nervous system damage
  • Liver diseases
  • Gastritis, or inflammation of the stomach lining
  • Seizures
  • Neurological disorders
  • Thiamine deficiency, which leads to muscle weakness and heart problems

Since many of these conditions limit a person’s ability to perform work, alcoholism-related issues such as these might qualify someone for SSD, even if they were caused or exacerbated by alcohol consumption. It’s worth noting, though, that alcoholism by itself, even though it’s considered a chronic disease, is not enough to qualify someone for SSD.

Seeking SSD for Alcoholism-Related Conditions

In some cases, a condition might improve if someone stops drinking alcohol. If a condition could be medically improved if a person stopped drinking, they would likely not qualify for SSD. So, for example, if someone experiences seizures as a direct result of their alcoholism, they might not qualify for SSD. On the other hand, if someone has permanent neurological damage as a result of their alcoholism and it will affect them even if they quit drinking, they might still qualify for SSD. This means that even if someone is still an alcoholic when applying for SSD, they could still potentially qualify.

A Complex Disease

Overall, alcoholism will not always immediately disqualify someone from receiving SSD, even if their alcohol abuse is the root cause of their problems. Since their condition might continue even if they quit drinking, someone with alcoholism still has the potential to receive SSD, just like anyone else with a severe and limiting health condition. It might not seem “fair” that people can receive SSD benefits for a health condition caused by their own vices, but as mentioned above, it’s very important to remember that alcoholism is a chronic disease and with alterations in brain chemistry and painful withdrawal symptoms, recovery can be harder than it seems.

Alcoholism is a complicated disease and applying for SSD is a complicated process. Pair them together and it can lead to some very complicated questions. If you have concerns about how past or present alcoholism might affect an SSD application, an SSD attorney can help you figure out the next steps of your case.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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