I had a question cross my mind, and I asked Google to help me out. "Hey Google, is addiction legally a disability?"

The answer met my ears in seconds: "Addiction is generally considered a disability because it is an impairment that affects the brain and neurological functions.

Addiction to alcohol and the illegal use of drugs are treated differently under the ADA." (https://adata.org/factsheet/ada-addiction-and-recovery-and-government)

I thought to myself "generally, isn't a very legal term". So I read on...

The information favors alcoholism, and is sternly against illicit substance use besides.

Continued reading of the clauses: An individual fostering a dependency for illicit substances cannot use rights provisioned by the ADA to employ any service in the sectors of

  • Legal matters
  • Social services
  • Employment
  • Housing

There is one exception, healthcare. A person who is currently dependent on illegal drugs cannot be denied healthcare based on their dependency for illegal drugs.


A person can be discriminated against for a mental health problem, in every area except healthcare.

Doesn't that obligate society to acknowledge that they need mental healthcare, and for the system to facilitate that care to avoid discrimination?

The objective of this legislation was to end discrimination against Americans with disabilities. Any exceptions to this fact seem to undermine the founding objective. Addiction is a disability, as stated within the documentation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A person who is suffering from addiction needs immediate, trauma informed therapy, and treatment. The law points this out as the only option.

I asked this question on every sub I could think of on Reddit, and the best explanation I got was that the ADA specifically exempts people from all but healthcare, so the process of discrimination must also maintain a narrow scope of obligation... This answer is unsatisfactory because the law is written to end discrimination against disabled citizens. Drug addiction is an academically established disability acknowledged by the law itself.

Could anyone give me a rational explanation for this?


1 Answer 1


Doesn't that obligate society to acknowledge that they need mental healthcare, and for the system to facilitate that care to avoid discrimination?

No. Generally not.

But, there is some obligation on the part of wardens of jails and prisons to provide enough mental healthcare to avoid the very low standard of showing deliberate indifference to the health of convicted inmates (the standard is somewhat higher for people detained awaiting trial and not convicted).

There is a fairly substantial case law of civil rights lawsuits against wardens for ignoring the symptoms of addiction withdrawal that ultimately causes death or suicide. The cases go both ways in a highly fact-specific, case by case analysis that isn't entirely consistent.

Could anyone give me a rational explanation for this?

What made you think that the law has to be rational? It is frequently irrational and/or inconsistent. Law is not math.

But, generally speaking, U.S. law creates far fewer positive obligations, especially on the part of government, than it does prohibitions. Providing healthcare is a positive obligation which the law has been loathe to impose on government without a clear and specific statutory authorization which hasn't been passed by legislators outside emergency medical treatment, Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, and an obligation to provide minimal healthcare to inmates.

The law is not required to be fair, even though the law that is adopted must be applied fairly to some very limited degree.

  • While I appreciate the time spent answering this, I absolutely hate everything about your answer. The definition of justice just melted before my eyes. I looked at a document dedicated to ending disabled discrimination, and it became a safety net for the privileged.
    – Goddoll
    Dec 28, 2022 at 4:07
  • “Not required to be fair” beyond being the same for everyone - i.e. all people addicted to alcohol or illicit drugs are treated the same but they don’t have to be treated the same as each other.
    – Dale M
    Dec 28, 2022 at 5:15
  • @Goddoll The law is what it is. Many countries other than the U.S. do better.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 28, 2022 at 5:20

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