Is Addiction a Disability?

Alcoholism and drug addiction are complicated scenarios that can ultimately destroy a person’s life including their finances, their career, and their family.


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. That leaves people wondering, are alcoholism and drug addiction disabilities?

As a disabled person, you have the right to protect yourself from discrimination. These rights cover most areas including:

  • Employment
  • Education
  • Dealing with the police


Now that the new Draft Disability Law has been released, it states that “addiction to alcohol, nicotine or any other substance is not in itself a ‘disability’, as defined by the legislation. This is also the position taken in the UK Equality Act. This means that addiction alone does not give a person protection under the Discrimination (Jersey) Law 2013, but where the person also has a related physical or mental health issue, they are likely to be protected as ‘disabled’ under the Law.”

Drug addiction can wreak havoc on an individual’s life and can often prevent an individual from working. You can apply to receive disability benefits for health problems in injuries related to your alcoholism, but you have to show that these would apply even if you were to stop drinking, and you really have to prove it.


Alcoholism is a mental impairment, and this means that for example, employers couldn’t take action against an employee because of this disability. This also means that an employee can’t be disciplined just because they are an alcoholic, and there must be reasonable accommodations made for this disability.

Another scenario people often wonder about in the discussion of alcoholism and drug addiction as disabilities is what would happen if they needed to take time off work to attend rehab. If it seems like reasonable accommodations could be made, the employer is required to do that.


“Addiction Might Be a Disability, but It Is Not a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card”
– Constance Scharff, Ph.D


So this sounds like if you’re an alcoholic or a drug addict, you can be drunk on the job and behave in an out-of-control way and your employer can’t fire you. That’s not true either. Alcoholism itself is a disability as it’s a disease, but drinking or being drunk at work isn’t. There can be rules that employees can’t drink or be intoxicated on the job.

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