Alcoholism and Disability Benefits in Pennsylvania

Most people know that the Social Security Administration (SSA) offers monthly disability benefits to qualified applicants who struggle with a long-term injury or illness.  What’s less understood is how the SSA treats claims involving chronic alcohol abuse.
No one disputes the fact that alcoholism can cause or contribute to debilitating medical problems.  However, the SSA does not treat alcoholism claims the same way that “standard” claims are treated.  In this article, our disability lawyers will explain how the SSA’s medical examiners evaluate claims related to alcohol addiction. We’ll go over some of the obstacles and special considerations applicants should think about when filing a disability claim, including the “material” standard and related qualifying conditions.
Do you need help with how to file for benefits in New Jersey or Pennsylvania?  Do you want to appeal a denial from the SSA?  If so, the legal team at Young, Marr & Associates can help. To set up a free and confidential case evaluation, call our law offices at (609) 755-3115 in New Jersey or (215) 701-6519 in Pennsylvania today.

SSA Eligibility Requirements for Disability Benefits

Before we start exploring the relationship between social security benefits and alcohol dependence,  it’s important to cover the general eligibility criteria which apply to everyone, regardless of medical condition.  In order to qualify for SSI (Supplemental Security Income) or SSDI, you must meet the following criteria (with a few rare exceptions, such as applicants with advanced terminal illness):

  • You must be severely disabled.  If your condition is easy to treat or control, and doesn’t interfere with employment, you will not be considered disabled by the SSA.
  • Your condition must be long-term.  Your disability must either have lasted or be expected to last for at least one year, or to end in death.
  • If you are working, you must not be earning more than the income cut-offs for SSI and SSDI.  The 2015 SSDI income limit is $1,090.  The 2015 SSI limit is lower, but not all of your income is actually counted toward that limit.

social security benefits application form

Can You Get Disability Benefits with Alcoholism?

The short answer to this question is that it depends on the claimant.  Whether a claim involving alcohol abuse is denied or approved ultimately depends on how the claimant’s alcoholism factors into the disability being cited.
When SSA medical examiners review disability claims involving alcohol or drug addiction, they essentially want to determine whether the disability would still exist if the underlying substance abuse problem went away.  If the disability would ease or disappear without the addiction, the addiction is considered “material” to the claim, and the claim will be denied.  If the disability would persist even without the addiction, the addiction is not considered “material,” and the claim may be approved.

Alcohol-Related Medical Conditions That Qualify for Disability Benefits

While alcoholism is not grounds for an approval in and of itself, the effects of alcoholism can lead to an approval.  But how are these effects assessed?
The SSA uses a document called the Listing of Impairments, sometimes referred to as “the Blue Book,” to help guide its determinations.  The Listing is effectively a large catalog of different medical problems, all of which have condition-specific severity standards.  If a claimant matches or equals the Listing’s standards for his or her medical issue, he or she could be considered severely disabled, and could therefore be granted a monthly disability award.  In short, it is not enough to simply have a condition — that condition must also meet certain requirements in order to be deemed truly disabling by the SSA.
With that in mind, let’s review some of the conditions which could apply to claimants with alcohol addictions.


Multiple studies have found links between alcoholism and clinical depression.  You may be eligible for SSI or SSDI if you are able to meet or equal the standards noted under Section 12.04 of the Listing.  A claimant may be able to qualify for disability with depression if he or she exhibits effects such as feelings of worthlessness or guilt, persistent insomnia, and difficulties with socializing or other daily tasks.

Liver Damage

Excessive alcohol consumption can cause the liver to become inflamed, in some cases leading to permanent scarring and irreversible cirrhosis. The effects of cirrhosis, which include edema, confusion, easy bruising, and lack of appetite, can continue to ravage the body even after the individual stops drinking. The only known cure for severe cirrhosis is receiving a liver transplant, a qualifying condition under Section 5.09.
Even if you haven’t had a transplant, you could still qualify under Section 5.05 (Chronic Liver Disease) if you exhibit one of the following:

  • Hemorrhaging (as proven by x-rays or other medical imaging).
  • Ascites, which occurs when fluid accumulates in the space between your abdominal organs and the abdomen itself.
  • Spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (SBP), an infection of the ascitic fluid (see ascites above).
  • Hepatorenal syndrome, or progressive kidney failure.  Kidney failure is also covered by Section 6.00 (Genitourinary Disorders).
  • Hepatopulmonary syndrome, which causes breathing problems.
  • Hepatic encephalopathy, which describes impaired brain function caused by liver failure.
  • End stage liver disease.

Other alcohol-related conditions which may help you qualify include peripheral neuropathies or nerve damage (Section 11.14) or gastrointestinal bleeding (Section 5.02).

Our Pennsylvania Social Security Disability Attorneys Can Help You

If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol addiction, you may be eligible for monthly SSI or SSDI benefits — even if you’ve already been denied.  To set up a free and private consultation, call Young, Marr & Associates at (609) 755-3115 in New Jersey or (215) 701-6519 in Pennsylvania.

Related Articles

How Many Types of Social Security Benefits Are Available?

While it is necessary to be disabled to receive disability benefits, the non-medical requirements are different for each category. You may be entitled to one or more types of benefits. […]

Read More »

Increasing your Chances of Success for Getting Disability Benefits in Pennsylvania or New Jersey

You significantly improve your chances of recovering if you receive medical care for all physical and/or psychiatric impairments. It is imperative that you are treating physicians be supportive of your […]

Read More »

How Do SSDI Spousal Benefits Work in Pennsylvania?

Jeffery B. Miller, with a doctorate in economics from University of Pennsylvania, is the founder of Social Security Choices, a firm that helps people in claiming their social security benefits […]

Read More »

Have an Attorney Review Your Case for Free

Get a Free Case Evaluation

Contact Our Attorneys To Learn How We Can Help Your Case


12 Convenient Locations Across Pennsylvania and New Jersey

Philadelphia, PA

7909 Bustletown Ave, 1st Floor Philadelphia, PA 19152 (215) 607-7478 Get Directions

Quakertown, PA

328 Broad St. Quakertown, PA 18951 (215) 515-6876 Get Directions

Allentown, PA

137 N 5th St. Suite A Allentown, PA 18102 (215) 240-4082 Get Directions

Jenkintown, PA

135 Old York Road Jenkintown, PA 19046 (215) 544-3347 Get Directions

Easton, PA

101 Larry Holmes Dr. #212 Easton, PA 18042 (215) 515-7077 Get Directions

Bala Cynwyd, PA

2 Bala Plaza, Suite 300 Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004 (610) 557-3209 Get Directions

Bensalem, PA

3554 Hulmeville Rd, #102 Bensalem, PA 19020 (215) 515-6389 Get Directions

Plymouth Meeting, PA

600 W. Germantown Pike #400 Plymouth Meeting, PA 19462 (215) 515-6876 Get Directions

Harrisburg, PA

2225 Sycamore St Harrisburg, PA 17111 (717) 864-8887 Get Directions

Cinnaminson, NJ

909 Route 130 South #202 Cinnaminson, NJ 08077 (609) 796-4344 Get Directions

Hamilton Twp., NJ

100 Horizon Center Blvd., 1st and 2nd Floors Hamilton Township, NJ 08691 (609) 236-8649 Get Directions

Marlton, NJ

10000 Lincoln Drive E One Greentree Centre, Suite 201 Marlton, NJ 08053 (856) 213-2805 Get Directions

Piscataway, NJ

200 Centennial Ave. Suite 200 Piscataway, NJ 08854 (908) 367-7256 Get Directions