Alcoholism and drug addiction are disabling diseases. People can be addicted to illegal drugs, such as heroin or cocaine, and prescription drugs, such as pain killers. People who are addicted to drugs and alcohol have very strong cravings to use drugs or alcohol despite the negative effects. This craving can be as strong as the desire for food and water. With alcoholism, the body also needs alcohol to function, and the user goes through withdrawal when drinking is stopped. This is called physical dependence. Some drugs cause addiction without physical dependence (such as cocaine). But this does not make them less harmful. Addiction to drugs or alcohol can be treated, but it is a life-long disease. Someone who has been treated for addiction should never use alcohol or drugs again.
Abusing drugs and alcohol can limit your ability to work or take care of yourself or others. Health problems related to drug and alcohol abuse and addiction also can affect everyday living. Years of alcohol or drug use may cause disabling problems even for people who are recovering from alcoholism or drug addiction.
If you have or had alcohol or drug use disorders, you might wonder if you are protected by law as a person with a disability. Whether any one person has a disability is decided on a case-by-case basis. But generally, people who currently use illegal drugs, people whose alcohol or drug use puts others in danger, or people whose alcohol or drug use does not greatly impair a major activity of daily living are not considered disabled.