Is Drug Addiction a Disability?
Drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, meth, and prescription pills, have destroyed the lives of millions of Americans. The abuse of any of these or other drugs can quickly lead to addiction, which is notoriously difficult to break free from. It is no secret that the United States has continually faced exceptionally high rates of drug addiction and overdose. In 2019 alone, approximately 72,000 people died of drug overdoses. Two-thirds of those deaths involved opioids like heroin and prescription painkillers. Rates of treatment admissions still fall below 25% despite outreach and accessibility. There is no doubt that in the United States, drug addiction is still something that has a grip on millions of people.
And while all these people are going through the same thing, there is still a huge misconception and stigma surrounding addiction. Some people continue to think that addiction is the result of a choice, despite science showing that addiction is a progressive disease of the brain. Others are educated on addiction as a disease, while some have minimal knowledge about it at all. Because of these differences, it is common for some people to think that addiction is something that it is not, such as a disability.
What is a Disability?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a disability is defined as “any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around then (participation restrictions).” The World Health Organization (WHO) states that disability has three dimensions, including:
- Impairment – being physically and/or mentally compromised in ways that causes impairment, such as missing a body part or having hearing loss
- Activity limitation – having problems engaging in activity due to issues related to things such as vision, mobility, hearing, etc.
- Participation restrictions — Being unable to participate in daily activities, such as working, going to school, engaging in physical hobbies, etc.
People can be born with disabilities or develop them later on in life. Some common disabilities include the following:
- Spina bifida
- Down syndrome
- Cerebral palsy
- Fetal alcohol syndrome
- Hearing loss
- Brain injury
- Alzheimer’s disease
These are just the tip of the iceberg in regards to disabilities, as there are several of them. However, addiction is not one of them.
Why Isn’t Addiction a Disability?
When reading the definition of a disability, it almost seems like addiction fits the bill. Being addicted to drugs or alcohol causes impairment, activity limitation, and participation restrictions, right? Well, in many ways, yes, but in general, no. Here’s why:
- Being addicted to drugs or alcohol creates impairment, there is no doubt about that. However, that impairment can be remedied by abstaining from further substance abuse. A disability refers to something that is a permanent condition. And while addiction is a permanent disease, the impairment that goes along with it is not.
- One of the most common symptoms of addiction is no longer engaging in activities that were once enjoyed. When WHO describes activity limitation as causing people to struggle to engage in the activities around them, addiction does not meet the criteria. That is because while addiction certainly limits a person’s involvement in activity, that can be fixed if the person stops using drugs.
- People with disabilities are not always able to participate in the things they want because their disabilities do not allow them to. For example, someone with Alzheimer’s disease may not be allowed to drive a vehicle any longer because they have memory impairment problems. When someone is under the influence of drugs, they can still do things such as drive a car even if they shouldn’t. They have the physical capacity to do so, as well as the mental capacity despite being under the influence. Once the high wears off, they should have no problems driving a car, while someone with Alzheimer’s disease does not experience the same opportunity.
Addiction is not a disability, it is a disease. The continued abuse of drugs causes structural changes in the brain that make it more difficult for a person to stop using. The more drugs are abused, the more severe these changes become. While recovering from drug addiction can be extremely challenging, it is possible. Addiction is a treatable disease.
Can Drug Addiction Ever Be Considered a Disability?
Even though addiction is not classified as a disability, a person can receive disability benefits as a result of their addiction. If you have a drug addiction and are considering filing for disability, you are not guaranteed approval. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), the process that occurs after you apply for disability related to your addiction is as follows:
- It must be determined that you are disabled and have medical evidence of your drug addiction
- If that is determined to be true, it must then be determined if your drug addiction is a contributing factor to the determination of disability
- It must be determined if you would still be disabled if you weren’t addicted to drugs by evaluating current physical and mental limitations
- If it is determined that your drug addiction is not a contributing factor to your disability as a result of those steps, then you will not be approved for disability benefits
- If it is determined that you are disabled due to your drug addiction, you may be approved for disability benefits
Drug addiction can produce some severe mental and physical health complications that can last far longer than the active addiction does. In many cases, drug addiction does leave people disabled. However, if you are actively addicted to drugs, there is a large chance that you will not be approved for disability unless you already have a circumstance in which you are disabled.
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