Is alcoholism a disability?

On Behalf of | Apr 26, 2019 | Disability Discrimination |

Addiction is a challenge many people face throughout their lives. Almost everyone knows a friend or family who has fallen prey to alcohol or drug abuse.

For decades, the American Medical Association has defined alcoholism as a primary, progressive, chronic disease “with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations.” While the medical consensus is that addiction is a disease, does it qualify as a disability?

Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities act cites both alcoholism and drug addiction as disabilities. Multiple federal court decisions have reaffirmed this. As such, if an alcoholic can prove they are “substantially limited in a major life activity,” an employer must reasonably accommodate them.

However, “reasonable accommodation” does not mean the employer has to put up with absences from work or drinking on the clock. Rather there is usually an allowance made to let the alcoholic employee seek detox, rehab or other treatment. If an alcoholic drinks at work, they can face the same punishment as any other employee who did the same.

If the employee relapses after treatment, though, and the job suffers, courts have ruled that the employer has no obligation to take the alcoholic employee back. Furthermore, if the employee’s off-the-clock drinking affects job function – for example, if someone who drives for a living has their license suspended – the employer could legally fire the employee.

SSDI and alcoholism

1996 legislation made it so alcoholics and drug addicts were no longer able to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits based upon their addictions alone. But if someone has disability independent from their addiction, even if alcoholism or drug abuse worsen the disability. they may still qualify for benefits.

However, if the Social Security Administration deems that the disability would go away with stopping drugs or alcohol, they would not qualify for SSDI benefits.

Find resources

If you or a loved one finds yourself in trouble because of drinking, with the law or with an employer, it is a good idea to speak with a knowledgeable attorney who can help you decide how to best move forward.


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