In the typical case, an applicant for Michigan Social Security disability benefits who is found to be “disabled,” as that term is defined in the Social Security regulations, will be awarded benefits. There are two exceptions to this typical case: (1) when a claimant fails to follow prescribed treatment, and (2) when alcoholism or other drug abuse is a factor in the disability determination.
Recall that in every case, the Social Security Administration makes its disability determination using a 5-step sequential evaluation process. If the claimant satisfies the 5-step criteria, then he or she is found to be “disabled,” and awarded benefits. The regulations provide, however, that the Social Security decision-maker will not find a claimant disabled if the claimant, without good reason, does not follow prescribed treatment. The treatment must be prescribed by the claimant’s own physician, and must be “clearly expected to restore” the claimant’s ability to work. A claimant will be found “not disabled” on this basis only after the Social Security Administration has completed its 5-step sequential evaluation process and concluded that the claimant is, in fact, disabled. The Social Security regulations also provide that if drug addiction or alcoholism is “a contributing factor material to the determination of disability,” a claimant will be found not disabled. This issue is addressed only after it is determined that the claimant meets Social Security’s strict definition of “disabled” when considering all impairments, including any impairments involving drug addiction or alcoholism. Once that determination is made, the Social Security decision-maker will take a second look at the claimant’s impairments to consider whether the claimant would still be disabled if he or she stopped using drugs or alcohol.