Substance Addiction and Disability Insurance: Recovery can be Uncertain

8/22/2018

Substance addition can be a tough situation for disability claims managers

As with many mental disorders, addiction can be a hard thing to objectively verify. But we do know it can affect the brain. So, what’s a disability claims manager to do when faced with a claim related to substance addiction?

What Addiction Does to the Brain

It’s long been known that drug addiction taps into the dopamine reward system in the brain.

Dopamine is what makes people feel good when their basic needs are met. Addiction has the power to step into this process, tricking the brain into desiring “more”.

Let’s take fentanyl. A powerful pain reliever used in cases of severe pain, fentanyl produces a sense of euphoria, and floods the brain’s reward centers with unnatural levels of dopamine. From there, as addiction develops, it’s not simply a case of a person consciously making a choice to take more, but the brain becoming rewired to demand more of the drug.

It’s not always recreational drug users that find themselves addicted. People prescribed drugs to manage legitimate, extreme pain, can also find that addiction develops.

It Doesn’t End with Dopamine

A recent study by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that it’s not necessarily just this dopamine neurotransmitter that plays a part. Opioids can have an effect on six different brain networks, including reward, memory, and habit. This much more complicated interplay means that a drug addiction can produce a wide range of behaviours and side effects.

There’s much still to be understood with addiction. It could be that these abnormalities already exist in some people before they encounter drugs at all. And it’s also uncertain to what extent a person can fully recover after drug use has stopped. These brain networks are subject to significant change during drug abuse, and it could be that for some people, there will be lasting damage to manage.

What Does this Mean for Disability Insurance? 

Obviously, addiction is a complicated question that’s going to vary by person, by drug, extent of abuse, and possibly how the person got addicted in the first place.

Some cases may leave little lasting damage on a person. With a little help, they might be able to kick the habit and resume their normal functions, healthy and ready to jump back into a fulfilling career and life.

But others won’t be so easy. Sometimes, the person is going to require a lot of help, a lot of work, and they might never return to quite the same life as they previously enjoyed. That’s going to have an effect on what benefits they may be eligible for, what work they’re able to do, and what quality of life they can hope to achieve.

The Clarity of an Independent Medical Examination with Addiction Cases

If you’re unsure what to make of a claim involving addiction, you may wish to investigate what an Independent Medical Examination (IME) can achieve. These offer the chance to obtain clarity over a medical condition, physical or mental, by expediting access to specialised medical professionals uniquely equipped to evaluate specific medical conditions.

With an IME, you’ll get a better understanding of what’s really going on, and this information could make all the difference for tough disability claims. If you every have any questions about IMEs and disability claims, our Medical Director Dr. Roger Hodkinson is always available for a quick, no-obligation chat at 780.433.1191.

Author: WMA


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