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Is Drug Addiction a Disability? Yes and No

November 4, 2017 Americans with Disabilities Act Claims

Recovering addicts may be entitled to protection under federal law

Many people who work in addiction treatment assert that addiction is a disease.

If that’s the case, then that begs the question: are people who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction entitled to the same workplace protections as people with other chronic conditions, such as cancer?

What sort of accommodations do employers need to make for people who are in treatment for addiction issues?

With the opioid crisis reaching epidemic proportions, these issues are coming into sharper focus for many people.

Let’s take a closer look at how drug addiction is handled under federal law.

Drug Use Must be in the Past

The main question to consider is whether or not a person qualifies for protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

ADA coverage helps ensure that disabled people are not discriminated against because of their disabilities in terms of hiring, advancement, or other workplace benefits. People covered by the ADA are also protected from retaliation for exercising their rights.

Generally, people who are actively abusing drugs do not qualify for ADA protection. In most circumstances, employers can lawfully terminate someone who is under the influence while on the job.

But the situation may be quite different for people who are recovering from addiction.

People with a past history of a disability may still qualify for ADA coverage. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. To provide protection from discrimination relating to other people’s assumptions about an individual’s health or capabilities. For example, the law would prohibit a cancer survivor from being denied a promotion because a manager assumed the staffer was likely to get sick again.
  2. To allow people to continue treatment they may need to maintain their health. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is currently suing a company for rescinding a job offer after to a person with a history of drug addiction. Although the man claims he has not abused drugs in more than seven years, the company objected to his use of a prescription narcotic that helped him avoid relapse.  

ADA Coverage is Highly Individualistic

It’s extremely important to remember that ADA protection is determined on a case-by-case basis, so not all people with a history of drug addiction automatically qualify.

Rather, ADA coverage will depend upon whether a person was actually disabled by his or drug use. Often, that will require a showing that an individual was substantially limited in a major life activity, such walking, talking, caring for oneself, or working, among other factors.

Call Us For a Free Consultation 

If you believe that you’ve been discriminated against because of a past addiction, you should speak to an employment law attorney about your rights.

Email us at or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.