Is Drug Addiction Considered a Disability?
Dependence on alcohol or another drug can undermine a person’s ability to work, attend school, maintain healthy relationships, and otherwise enjoy a full and productive lifestyle. There’s no question that this condition can be devastating. But is addiction a disability?
Is Drug Addiction a Disability?
Disability is a relatively common term, but its definition can change considerably depending on the context in which it is being discussed.
For the purposes of this post, we are going to consider the question “Is addiction a disability?” from a legal perspective. In the United States, one legal definition of disability can be found in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law in 1990.
The ADA protects people from being discriminated against on the basis of disability. According to the ADA website, a person is considered to have a disability if they meet one or more of the following criteria:
- They have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
- They have a history or record of such an impairment (such as cancer that is in remission).
- They are perceived by others as having such an impairment (such as a person who has scars from a severe burn).
Substance use disorders (which is the clinical term for addiction) are mental impairments that can substantially limit a person’s ability to function in one or more important areas of life. This means that, as established by the ADA, the answer to the question, “Is addiction a disability?” is yes.
It is important to understand that the ADA only applies to certain situations. Here’s how the scope and limitations of the law are summarized on the ADA website:
The ADA guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to enjoy employment opportunities, purchase goods and services, and participate in state and local government programs.
Of course, there are many aspects of modern life that fall outside the parameters of employment, consumer activities, and participation in government programs. Some of these other aspects are addressed in the ADA, while others are left to state and local governments. So, is addiction a disability in California (or any other state)? Under the ADA, the answer is still yes. But the level of protection a person can expect can vary from state to state.
Drug Addiction Employee Rights
Under the ADA, people who have substance use disorders have certain rights as employees and as candidates for jobs. But neither the ADA nor any other U.S. law guarantees continued employment for people who are actively abusing alcohol or other drugs.
Is it Against the Law to Fire a Drug Addict?
According to the ADA, you cannot be fired from your job because you have an addiction. However, you can be fired if you have been caught using alcohol or other drugs in the workplace, or if a drug screening reveals that you have been using a prohibited substance.
Here are a few examples to illustrate how the law treats the distinction between having a substance use disorder and engaging in substance abuse:
- If an employer or interviewer discovers that you have been treated for addiction, they cannot legally fire you or eject you as an applicant.
- However, if you use alcohol or other drugs in the workplace, if you show up to an interview under the influence of a mind-altering substance, or if you fail a drug test, you can legally be fired or dismissed as a job candidate.
Can You Get Paid Disability for Having an Addiction?
If you live in California, you may be able to receive short-term disability payments through the California State Disability Insurance (CASDI) program while you are receiving treatment for addiction.
According to the State of California Employment Development Department, eligible employees may qualify for the following benefits:
- Up to 30 days of disability insurance (DI) benefits while residing in an approved residential alcohol treatment facility that was recommended by a licensed mental health professional.
- Up to 45 days of DI benefits while residing in a residential rehab facility that was approved by a licensed health professional.
- In certain circumstances, you may also qualify for 60 more days in alcohol treatment and 45 more days in drug rehab.
To qualify for this benefit, you must have a job that is based in California, and you must be paying into the CASDI program.
The federal government does not offer a similar program. However, if you qualify under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you may receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave (and the continuance of your group insurance benefits while you are not working) to receive addiction treatment.
How is Substance Abuse Treated Differently than Other Disabilities?
From a legal perspective, one of the main differences between substance use disorders and other disabilities is the distinction between the disorder (addiction) and the behavior (substance abuse).
As we described earlier on this page, the ADA does not protect you from negative repercussions (including job loss) due to active substance abuse. Employers have the right to mandate a drug-free workplace. They are also allowed to require employees to complete drug screenings.
Thus, if you test positive on a drug screen, or if you are otherwise determined to be under the influence of a mind-altering substance while at work, you cannot use the ADA to prevent your employer from firing you. This is true even if you decide to enter a treatment program after you have violated your company’s substance use policy.
Contact Our Addiction Treatment Center in California Today
If you or someone that you care about has been struggling with an addiction to alcohol or another drug, Sanctuary Treatment Center can help. Our center provides multiple levels of personalized care, including detoxification, inpatient treatment, and outpatient programming. At every level, our clients receive compassionate services from a team of dedicated professionals. Contact us today to learn more.