ADA and addiction
Reading time: 2 min

The Americans with Disabilities Act ensures people living with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. This federal law, first enacted in 1990, prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government programs and services.

Under the ADA, the disease of addiction qualifies as a disability in California and nationwide because it is an impairment that affects brain and neurological functions and can substantially limit one or more major life activities. However, the law applies differently to alcohol than it does to illegal drug use. While the ADA generally defines an alcohol use disorder as a disability regardless of whether the addiction is in the present or past, it only protects people in drug abuse recovery who are no longer actively taking illicit substances.  

The ADA and Employment

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “Persons addicted to drugs, but who are no longer using drugs illegally and are receiving treatment for drug addiction or who have been rehabilitated successfully are protected by the ADA from discrimination on the basis of past drug addiction.”

Per the guidance, actively abusing these substances without seeking help may disqualify someone from Americans with Disabilities Act protections and cause them to lose their job:

  • Prescription medications such as codeine, morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone
  • Illegal drugs like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines

The EEOC standards reinforce the premise that addiction is a chronic, diagnosable medical condition. On that basis, an employer may consider reasonable accommodations for an employee who is actively working on addiction recovery, such as allowing them to switch to a part-time work schedule or providing additional time off to attend therapist appointments and support group sessions.

Disability and Addiction Statistics

People with physical and intellectual disabilities often turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with emotional and mental disorders, anxiety, low moods and physical pain. As a result, they develop substance use disorders and related problems at a higher rate than the rest of the U.S. population. Millions of American adults simultaneously have SUD and a co-existing disability.

The ADA covers SUDs diagnosed by a practicing, licensed physician. It can also account for disabilities resulting from or worsened by addiction, including:

  • Vision impairments, such as full or partial blindness
  • Mental health conditions like depression, anxiety or schizophrenia
  • Memory issues, including Korsakoff syndrome or alcohol-induced dementia

Many people – including some health care providers – don’t realize that withholding services from someone based on their addiction history or ongoing treatment is illegal discrimination. In April 2022, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division released guidelines explaining how the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to addiction, aiming to make people with substance use disorders more aware of their rights.

California Drug and Alcohol Treatment

If you’re struggling with substance abuse and have accepted you have a problem you can’t solve on your own, Hope by the Sea is a family-owned treatment center where you can receive the help you need in a judgment-free environment. When you contact our admissions team, they will assess your needs, verify your insurance coverage, explain our treatment tracks and prepare you for what to expect.