Alcoholism and drug addiction is a progressive disease that can ultimately destroy a person’s life including their finances, their career, their family and if untreated will lead to death. While there may be some aspect of choice in taking the first drink or doing the first drug, alcoholism and addiction are considered diseases in the medical community, because of how your brain reacts to these substances and the progressive, chronic nature of addiction.
Is Addiction a Disability? Although drug addiction sometimes impairs a person’s ability to work, disability benefits will not be approved on the basis of addiction alone. Even though the effects of substance abuse may prevent the addicted individual from maintaining employment, Social Security does not consider it to be disabling until it causes irreversible medical conditions. This does not mean that you cannot win approval for a physical or mental condition that was caused by a drug addiction. As of 2018, there is not a listing for addiction, but you can still qualify for disability benefits by meeting the criteria of any of the listings for impairments caused by substance abuse: brain damage, liver damage, gastritis, pancreatitis, peripheral neuropathy, seizures, depression, anxiety disorder, or personality disorder. If the SSA determines that your illness would go away if you stopped abusing drugs, the SSA will deny your claim.
Although Social Security does not grant disability benefits based upon addiction alone, there is good cause for charitable organizations to fund people who suffer from the disease of addiction or to addiction treatment programs. Generally speaking, behavioral healthcare which includes both mental illness and addiction, is under funded. Overwhelmingly, Americans hold more negative attitudes toward people who suffer with drug addiction than toward people with mental illness. Negative attitudes translate into lower support for treatment and fair policies for this segment of the population.
According to Norman Sartorius, psychiatrist and professor, behavioral disorders probably carry more stigmas (and consequent discrimination) than any other illness. The stigma does not stop at the persons who are suffering from a stigmatized illness. Their immediate and even remote families often experience significant social disadvantages. The institutions that provide mental health care are stigmatized. Stigma reduces the value of the persons who have a mental disorder in the eyes of the community and the government. Medications that are needed in the treatment of mental disorders, for example, are considered expensive even when their cost is much lower than the cost of drugs used in the treatment of other illnesses.
Not all persons who suffer from the disease of addiction are disabled. Many high functioning drug-addicted people contribute to society in meaningful ways. In order to make a determination of which individual addicted person is most suitable for charitable giving, I recommend the use of an ASAM assessment and the use of RANT to determine risk and need level of a person who suffers from addiction.
ASAM, American Society of Addiction Medicine, defines a set of criteria for treatment placement, length of stay and transfer/discharge of patients with addiction and co-occurring conditions. Utilizing ASAM, clinicians are able to conduct a multidimensional assessment that explores individual risks and needs, as well as strengths, skills and resources. It matches impairment with intensity of needed treatment services.
RANT, the Risk and Needs Triage, is a tool utilized in criminal justice to determine which types of drug offenders are best suited for which types of programs. It classifies offenders into one of four risk/needs quadrants. RANT measures such things as age of onset of criminal activity or substance use (early onset of substance abuse indicates more brain damage and predicts higher levels of life impairment); prior failure in substance abuse rehabilitation; unstable living arrangements; unemployment; and chronic medical and mental health conditions. These conditions are indications of addiction disease symptoms. High risk, high need persons are especially suited for financial assistance.
People in recovery from addiction often need a helping hand to get back on their feet. Denying or limiting funding at critical junctures of an addict’s life can lead to relapse or death. Given the current opioid overdose death epidemic, more funding opportunities are needed. As you consider year end charitable giving, please be the helping hand.