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Is drug addiction an illness for receiving SSDI in New Jersey?

The ravages caused by addiction to drugs or alcohol are, unfortunately, no stranger to many New Jersey residents. Regardless of race, economic or social standing, the consequences of substance abuse touch all strata of American life. While we have learned much about the physiological and genetic components of substance addiction over the past several decades, there is still a certain stigma attached to those who are sometimes considered weak or lacking in willpower.

As is often the case, the legal field lags behind the medical in its approach to addiction as a bona fide illness. This is true of the Social Security Administration as well, in regards to applications for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. The SSA will not consider addiction in and of itself a disabling condition for the purposes of SSDI. However, certain conditions that may have been created by a past or present addiction may make one eligible for benefits.

The SSA recognizes that certain psychological consequences of addiction, such as anxiety, depressive and other personality disorders may result in a person being unable to work. The key factor in the agency's analysis is whether an ongoing addiction is a "contributing factor material to the determination of disability." To make this assessment, the SSA asks one key question: would the applicant still be disabled if he or she discontinued the use of drugs or alcohol? Basically, the agency will assess whether any limitations that are causing the disabling condition would remain without the use of the addicting substance, even if the damage creating the condition was originally caused by the addiction.

This may be a difficult hurdle to clear for many applicants, as submitting evidence that limitations would remain if conditions were different may prove problematic. However, getting help for the addiction, and removing the substance from the equation might help, as medically documented evidence of a disabling disorder while one is sober might help fulfill the requirement. This can be a tricky process, however, and people who are applying for Social Security disability for illness may want to consider talking with an experienced New Jersey disability attorney.

Source: Social Security Code of Federal Regulations, "Drug Addiction and Alcoholism," accessed on Oct. 27, 2015

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