Alcohol consumption is a normal relaxing activity but only becomes a problem when you regularly get a strong urge to drink excessive amounts such as blackout drinking. When compulsive drinking becomes chronic, then you could have an alcohol addiction problem. Alcohol addiction affects 17 million Americans, most of whom have a contractual engagement with an employer. It is clear that excessive alcohol consumption is a debilitating disorder but is alcoholism a disability?
Is alcoholism a disability?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recognizes alcoholism as a disability that qualifies for special consideration under the social security system. Employers must provide alcoholic employees with reasonable accommodations to enable them to function with their condition. Any employment decision that does not comply with these provisions is discriminatory and contestable in a labor court.
Types of alcohol-related disabilities
- Anxiety disorders: these are feelings of fear, loss of control, and panic attacks that result from excessive alcohol intake and may lead to further psychological and physical impairment.
- Depression: depression may be caused by excessive alcohol intake while, in other cases, alcohol consumption worsens an existing problem.
- Neurocognitive disorders: These are disabilities that manifest through a decline in cognitive functions associated with brain damage. For you to qualify under this category, you must have a demonstrable cognitive deficit such as hyperactivity, poor judgment, memory loss, inability to concentrate, and disorientation.
- Peripheral neuropathy: this is a problem that results from the damage of the extreme parts of the nervous system by excessive alcohol consumption. It is caused by thiamine deficiency and manifests through numbness in the fingers and toes.
- Liver damage: excessive alcohol consumption overworks the liver leading to liver damage. Indeed, most alcoholics list liver damage as the reason for their alcohol-related disability.
- Pancreatitis: excessive alcohol consumption causes inflammation in the pancreas that may eventually deteriorate to pancreatitis.
- Seizures: heavy alcohol consumption may cause occasional seizures in people who are not epileptic.
- Gastritis: This is an inflammation of the stomach lining that manifests through ulcers and a sharp pain, vomiting and loss of appetite.
Allowance for rehab
The ADA allows alcoholic employees to seek therapeutic interventions that may treat their addiction. Consequently, employers should make accommodation for such requests provided that the requested time off is not unreasonable.
Limits to the accommodation
Even though the ADA classifies alcohol addiction as a disability, the accommodations do not extend to drunk and disorderly behavior. Consequently, employers have the discretion to sanction alcohol consumption at work or people who turn up at work while under the influence of alcohol. Moreover, most states prohibit alcohol consumption and being intoxicated in the workplace.
Social security and alcoholism
The federal government supports people with addiction-related disabilities under the Social Security Disability Insurance system. Individuals who qualify can claim benefits directly or request refunds for tax paid by family members. Alcoholics can also apply for supplemental income in the form of financial assistance for individuals and families that are in dire need of material support.
However, you cannot get disability benefits for just being alcoholic as provisions of the disability act requires you to provide proof of an impairment resulting from the addiction. Further, you have to prove that the disability will remain even when you stop taking alcohol. Alcoholics can also claim benefits under the Substance Abuse Addiction Disorder, but only if they can prove that they suffer from chronic alcoholism. This means that you have to show that alcohol consumption has caused both psychological and physiological damage to your body. Physical disorders include damage to the liver or pancreas that compromises normal body functioning. Psychological problems often result from damage to the central nervous system that manifests through personality disorders such as seizures. Those who are too impaired to work can also seek medical-vocational allowance. The ADA recognizes a class of workers called qualified alcoholics. These are employees who have an alcohol problem but can still complete all the functions of their job with minimal or no accommodation.
If you are seeking help for alcohol detox and want to know if you are qualified under the ADA, you must:
- Have a physical or psychological impairment that affects your productivity or ability to live a normal life
- Have a medical record of the impairment
- Have a work record indicating that you suffer from an impairment that is associated with alcoholism
Symptoms of alcohol addiction
Most alcohol addicts are either heavy or binge drinkers, some even denying their addiction in the first place. Heavy consumption involves taking several liters of alcohol every week while binge drinking involves taking large amounts of alcohol in one sitting. Some of the symptoms of alcohol addiction include:
- Having regular alcohol cravings
- Losing interest in hobbies and work
- Drinking in secret or alone
- Prioritizing alcohol over other responsibilities
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
- Irritability and mood swings
- Starting the day with an alcoholic drink
- Feeling guilty after consuming alcohol
- Inability to control your drinking habits
- Inability to stop drinking despite financial, health, and family problems
Job security for alcohol addicts
Most employers have a substance abuse policy that bar employees from coming to work while intoxicated by alcohol and other substances. The policies may also indicate penalties for such violations. The provision that most legal practitioners quote is the last chance clause which requires the employer to give the employee an opportunity to seek treatment. The employer cannot terminate the employment contract when an employee is on addiction-related leave. If the worker violates the terms of this agreement, then the employer reserves the discretion to cancel the employment contract. Most labor courts will rule in the employer’s favor if the employee fails to reform after getting the last chance.
Not all alcoholics need accommodation, but it is advisable to seek formal recognition at the workplace if you have had an addiction problem or are undergoing rehabilitation. You can initiate a candid dialogue with your employer to provide some form of adjustment that will not overly constrain their resources. For instance, you can request a work schedule that allows you to attend therapy sessions or time off for an intensive treatment program.