Is Alcoholism Actually A Disability?
Most people will agree that excessive alcohol use is an unhealthy pattern of behavior. However, throughout history, many people thought of alcoholism as a moral failure. Many societies simply punished those who drank too much. Some governments even banned alcohol altogether. In the 20th century, medical science started examining the condition more closely. The question became: “Is alcoholism actually a disability?” After all, if alcoholism is a disability, it should be medically treated instead of punished.
The Disease Model of Addiction
In 1956, the American Medical Association recognized alcoholism as a disease. Today, this condition is known as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). Perhaps you’re wondering if you or a loved one are currently living with AUD. Fortunately, medical science has discovered several effective strategies for treating AUD in the last several decades. These steps include:
- Correctly identifying symptoms
- Managing withdrawal
- Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
- Individual and Group Therapy
Symptoms of AUD
Like any disease or disability, there are common symptoms of AUD you can look out for. First is the amount of time spent drinking. If you feel the need to begin drinking progressively earlier in the day, that could be a red flag. Likewise, how often do you think about the next drink when you are not currently drinking? If you are unsure, consider keeping a written list during the day of each time you think about alcohol. Finally, is drinking coming in between you and loved ones or activities you used to enjoy? If one or more of these symptoms apply to you, reach out to your medical provider for an evaluation.
Once you have been diagnosed with AUD and entered treatment, the first step will be to manage withdrawal. Withdrawal is when the body adjusts to the sudden absence of alcohol. This process should always happen under the supervision of a treatment provider. Depending on the symptoms and severity, your provider may prescribe medication to help you cope. If you have been diagnosed with AUD, do not attempt to navigate withdrawal without medical support. Left untreated, alcohol withdrawal can cause potentially deadly side effects, such as seizures and cardiovascular issues.
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
Your provider may use FDA-approved medications to assist with treatment. There are currently 3 main medications approved by the FDA for AUD treatment. These are naltrexone, disulfiram, and acamprosate. Your provider will most likely prescribe medication in addition to behavioral treatment. Every treatment plan is unique, but most regimens last at least 60-90 days. Your provider will prescribe the best medication given your full medical history. Be sure to tell your intake coordinator about any other medications you may be taking. Also, be sure to let your provider know about any family history of alcohol or substance use.
Individual and Group Therapy
Nearly all AUD treatment programs utilize behavioral or “talk therapy.” Typically, your treatment program will use both individual and group therapy. The purpose of therapy is to help identify emotional and mental issues around AUD and develop coping strategies. Many treatment centers employ credentialed counselors who specialize in specific types of therapy. Examples of these can include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Trauma-Informed Therapy. You may also be referred to family therapy sessions. Family therapy can help your family better understand AUD and how to best support you during recovery.
How Is Treatment Covered?
As you can see, AUD treatment has come a long way in a few short decades. Treatment methods are constantly evolving as we learn more about the disease. No matter what your treatment plan looks like, it is going to be a long process. The initial phases of treatment typically last 30-90 days. Depending on your needs, this period will be a combination of inpatient or intensive outpatient care. How, then, will you be able to cover the cost? Fortunately, most insurance plans cover AUD treatment. If you are a veteran, the VA also offers a program to cover treatment costs. Are you without insurance? Talk to your care provider. They may offer payment plans or other referrals within their network that can help.
Will Disability Coverage Help?
Depending on the severity of your disease, you may be eligible for short or long-term disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has laid out guidelines to determine when addiction issues qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. If you carry short or long-term disability insurance, these benefits may also apply as well. If your disability insurance is through work, check with your HR department to obtain any needed forms or policy information. Your provider’s intake counselors should be able to help communicate with insurance. Approval for benefits, particularly Social Security or other government benefits, can take a long time. Be sure to start the process as soon as possible, and answer any follow-up questions as soon as possible.
Is Alcoholism A Disability? Conclusion
Today, people commonly accept that AUD or “alcoholism” is a disability. AUD has a set of unique symptoms and clearly identifiable effects on the human body. Fortunately, medical science has come a long way in treating the physical, mental, and emotional issues caused by AUD. If you are currently living with AUD or think you might be, you are not alone. You should also know you are not at fault. There are numerous providers of compassionate care for AUD without guilt or judgment. In most cases, insurance and/or government benefits will cover treatment and help defray other costs. Your commitment to treatment and ongoing recovery will help not only you but also those closest to you.
If you or someone you know is living with alcoholism, please contact us for more information. Our team will be happy to answer your questions and help you determine your next steps. We are here to serve you.