While alcohol use disorder, formerly called alcoholism, is considered a disability, it may not qualify you for all disability-related benefits by itself.

Substance use disorder affects millions of people in the United States.

In 2021, over 46.3 million U.S. people ages 12 years and older had a substance use disorder, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Of those people, roughly 29.5 million reported having alcohol use disorder (AUD).

The Americans with Disabilities Act considers substance use disorders like AUD a disability because they can cause substantial impairment in a person’s daily life.

In addition, people who have certain chronic conditions from AUD may also qualify for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration.

Ahead, we discuss when AUD is a disability, including when you might qualify for assistance for AUD and how to apply.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is considered a disability under the ADA when someone can no longer do major life activities because of long-term, heavy alcohol use.

This means the ADA protects people with AUD against any discrimination that may happen ― from organizations or employers, for example ― because of their AUD.

When it comes to employment specifically, the ADA makes it illegal for any employer to discriminate against an employee with AUD as long as they are qualified to do their job and can safely do it.

In some cases, employees with AUD who experience limitations at work because of AUD-related complications may even be eligible for reasonable accommodations.

In addition to protection under the ADA, people with AUD may also qualify for disability benefits.

However, a person with AUD must meet specific criteria before being approved for Social Security benefits.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers two assistance programs for people with disabilities: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

On its own, AUD is not considered a qualifying disability when applying for Social Security disability benefits.

That said, if someone has developed a qualifying disability due to AUD, such as liver disease, heart disease, or cancer, they may qualify for disability benefits for that condition.

Here’s what the SSA considers when someone is applying for disability benefits because of an AUD-related disability:

  • If the person with an AUD-related disability would no longer have the disability if they stopped using alcohol, they would not qualify for benefits.
  • If the person with an AUD-related disability would still have the disability even if they stopped using alcohol, they may qualify for benefits.

There are also government and state programs that can help people living with substance use disorders access free or low cost treatment.

Visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Alcohol Treatment Navigator and SAMHSA’s Find Help resource pages for more information on available treatment options.

If you have a disability that developed because of AUD, you may qualify for SSDI.

Here’s what the application process looks like:

  1. Either you or an authorized representative apply for disability benefits online, over the phone, or through fax or mail.
  2. The SSA determines your eligibility for benefits based on nonmedical eligibility requirements.
  3. If you qualify for benefits based on your nonmedical eligibility, the SSA sends your application to your state Disability Determination Services (DDS) agency.
  4. Upon receiving your application, the DDS assigns someone to be your Disability Examiner (DE). They then collect information for your medical eligibility.
  5. The DE and other relevant members of your disability team determine your eligibility for benefits and send the decision back to the SSA.

It can take 3–5 months or longer to receive a decision on disability benefits. However, this estimate can vary depending on how quickly you gather the documents needed for your application.

Continuing education

If you or someone you love is living with AUD or a related disability, finding the next step can sometimes seem overwhelming. We’re here to help.

If you’d like to learn more about the resources available to you, check out these Healthline articles:

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Alcohol use disorder (AUD), formerly called alcoholism, is one of the most common substance use disorders in the United States. It affects millions of people each year.

For many people with this disorder, the chronic, long-term effects of heavy alcohol use can cause significant impairment and disability.

If you or someone you love has been living with AUD, help is available. Whether you take that first step by reaching out to a trusted friend or a healthcare professional for support, you don’t have to go through the recovery journey alone.