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At Heermans Social Security Disability Law Firm, we hear questions like this from residents in the greater Memphis metro-area, a lot more today than we did before 2020. The old phrase, “you’re going to drive me to drink” was usually heard as the punch line to a joke or a sarcastic statement; but unfortunately the past couple of years was no-joke! During the pandemic, alcohol use increased 23 percent. Alcohol sales soared and many people drank to escape, especially since other escape mechanisms, like going to the movies and attending other social gatherings were unavailable, while mental and emotional tensions ran high. You might be wondering why any of this is important today, after all it has been some time since the pandemic restrictions were largely lifted throughout the mid-south.

Drinking to escape was always a short term solution for people in the mid south area of Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Alcohol consumption adversely affects the heart, liver, brain, and many other organs and it is projected that there will be more deaths from liver disease due to increased alcohol use during the pandemic. Moreover, and somewhat ironically, alcohol also erodes the immune system. So, people who drank to escape coronavirus fears were also making themselves potentially more vulnerable to the very thing everyone feared the most…getting Covid.

These are scary situations for sure. The attorneys at Heermans Law Firm have a deep understanding of the fears and vulnerability that comes along with applying for Social Security Disability benefits. This is why we do our best to help clients easily and successfully apply for the benefits they qualify for.

Many people have pre-existing medical or other conditions that increase the risk of/or severity of a disability. AUD (alcohol use disorder) works a bit differently from something like a bad knee or a prior serious illness or injury. As far as many people are concerned, including many Disability Determination Services officers and Social Security Administrative Law Judges, an alcohol problem is usually seen as a voluntary condition. Simply put, you drink alcohol because you choose to. As you can start to see, there are two sides to this coin. One side says that drinking is a choice and the other side says that it is a medical condition. 

In recent years, there has been a very serious medical awareness movement to bring to light that alcoholism is a disease, not a decision. But this does not change how disability cases are evaluated and disability application questions must be answered properly. Therefore, in disability applications, the Social Security Disability attorneys at the Heermans Social Security Disability Law Firm are aware that a prejudice might exist regarding a person being considered as either a user of alcohol or an alcoholic. Having the power of a Heermans lawyer by your side is very important if you use alcohol and have a disabling condition. These types of claims tend to be more complex, especially if you have a brain, heart, or liver condition or other disability that alcohol has directly affected. 

Cardiovascular Disabilities

Ischemic heart disease (hardening of the arteries), chronic heart failure, and recurrent arrhythmias (rapid heartbeat) are three common conditions that affect those who apply for disability and also excessively use alcohol.

This brings us to the next topic of what does “excessive” use really mean. Well, there’s no single definition of “excessive” use. For some people, two or three drinks a week is excessive. For others, that’s par for the course in one’s normal everyday life.

Many times, DUIs and other such issues indicate excessive drinking. A diagnosis from a mental health counselor also has the same effect. By the same token, a lack of DUIs and other such issues and/or a clean bill of health from a substance abuse counselor, can indicate the applicant does not drink excessively, regardless of the number of drinks a person has on a daily or weekly basis.

Why is this important? By laying additional groundwork, a disability lawyer can clarify this question before it becomes a disability determination issue. For example, if Mary regularly has a glass of wine with dinner every night but she has no alcohol-related issues, her drinking is arguably irrelevant to her disability determination. Technically, having a drink every day may be considered as “regular” use of alcohol but at the same time, also not be considered as connected to a disability.

Social Security doctors generally use stress tests to determine if an applicant has severe ischemic heart disease (IHD). Disability applicants may be requested to submit to voluntary Breathalyzer tests immediately before their stress tests, to prove that alcohol use isn’t affecting their performance. 

Alternatively, applicants with at least three revascularization-related incidents in the last twelve months are considered to have qualifying IHD. Once again, the applicant may need to show that alcohol did not affect these incidents. Most hospitals perform these types of blood tests.

Excessive alcohol use may cause cardiomyopathy, a condition that weakens the heart. Therefore, this muscle is more susceptible to chronic heart failure (CHF), which is basically the heart’s inability to supply enough oxygenated blood to all body tissue. The SSA is usually very specific about what tests the applicant must undergo. If any additional tests are requested for your claim, then your Heermans attorney will be able to provide you with this information, so that you can give it to your doctor. 

Arrhythmias are recurrent if the applicant has at least three such issues in a twelve-month period. Moreover, the episodes must be far enough apart, so that it is clear that there are at least three separate episodes, as opposed to one or two that overlap. 

Blood tests are even more critical in this area. Many people experience alcohol-related arrhythmias within a few hours of alcohol consumption. If a blood test also says that there is no alcohol present, the episode is usually determined to not be alcohol related. 

Neurological and Mental Disorders

Cardiovascular conditions often involve the aforementioned escape drinking. Neurological and mental disorders, particularly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, also often involve self-medication or self-soothing drinking.

Basically, a single extremely traumatic event, like a car crash, causes uncomplicated PTSD. Multiple traumatic events that are a little less severe usually cause complex PTSD. The symptoms of these two conditions are similar. They include:

  • Avoidance,
  • Hypervigilance,
  • Flashbacks,
  • Nightmares,
  • Anger, and
  • Depression. 

Complex PTSD patients usually have more severe symptoms. These patients also often have an accompanying mental health issue, such as dissociative disorder or antisocial personality disorder.

These symptoms, by themselves, often aren’t disabling. However, the effects they can produce are often disabling. For example, if Linda’s PTSD nightmares keep her up at night, she cannot function effectively at work the next day. This situation might cause Linda to drink alcohol at night to help her get to sleep and then drink again during the day to help her remain calm or agreeable at work. It can become a vicious cycle. 


We mentioned the connection between excessive alcohol use and liver damage, including liver cancer, above. Alcohol is also linked to melanoma, rectal, colon, and breast cancer. Alcohol also damages these tissues. Additionally, inside the body, ethanol becomes acetaldehyde, a substance that damages DNA and has caused cancer in laboratory animals.

Alcohol is a beverage that has been enjoyed for thousands of years and unfortunately can also affect the lives and health of many people around us and sometimes even our own. We have touched upon several factors that are important and can affect your case, if you drink alcohol and are disabled and want to apply for Social Security Disability benefits. 

The disability lawyers in Memphis at the Heermans Social Security Disability Law Firm can help determine if you possibly qualify for SSD benefits with a FREE disability evaluation. If you have applied and been denied SSD benefits, please call or text 24/7 at (901) 244-0057 to find out if your case possibly qualifies for resubmission of disability benefits. Contact SAMHSA Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 800-662-HELP (4357) if you or a loved one would like help to stop excessive drinking. Assistance is available in (16) different languages. More value added FREE information can be found in our online article library.


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