Life Insurance with Alcohol and Substance Abuse

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

Getting life insurance with substance abuse is defined as using a drug, alcohol, or other chemicals, which cause clinically significant impairment. In this guide, you’ll understand how to get life insurance, compare quotes, and apply for coverage in 5 minutes.

If you feel your health could prevent you from being approved for a life insurance policy, contact us. Very rarely can we not find a solution for most people seeking life insurance with pre-existing medical conditions.

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Many legal and illegal drugs have abuse and addiction potential. These include:

  • Narcotics (such as codeine, morphine, heroin)
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • Methamphetamines
  • Marijuana
  • LSD
  • Tranquilizers (such as Valium)
  • Barbiturates
  • Inhalants
  • Anabolic steroids
  • Among many others.

Substance abuse causes increased mortality risk due to overdoses, accidents, infections, or toxic effects on vital organs.

Substance abuse is defined by the psychiatric text “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM-IV) as: “A maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by two (or more) of the following, within a 12-month period:

  • Often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
  • A persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control use.
  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain, use, or recover from the substance’s effects.
  • Craving or a strong desire or urge to use the substance. Continued use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by its effects. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of use.
  • Continued use despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance.
  • Recurrent use, failing to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
  • Recurrent use in situations in which it is physically hazardous. Recurrent legal problems due to drug use.
  • Continued use despite social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of the substance.

Abusers tend to have a drug of choice but readily switch to another drug within the same category if their preferred drug is unavailable.

For example, those addicted to alcohol easily become addicted to benzodiazepines. Therefore, when drugs such as Valium are used for detoxification from alcohol, they are given under a health professional’s guidance.

Mortality Risks

Mortality risks in a population of substance abusers include:

  • Deaths from natural causes such as the poisonous effects of substances and infections (hepatitis/HIV/endocarditis) from injectables.
  • Accidental deaths from overdose and trauma (motor vehicle accidents, falls, etc.).
  • Violent deaths from suicide and homicide.

Other points that increase the risk associated with substance abuse:

  • Multiple or polydrug use/abuse, especially involving illicit street drugs.
  • Substance abuse in the presence of a known psychiatric impairment.
  • Substance abuse in the presence of known interaction with the legal system, such as an adverse driving record or other arrest records.
  • Substance abuse in the presence of social (occupational, marital, familial) or behavioral problems.

Underwriting Factors

In applicants with a history of risky alcohol habits, an increased premium (or possibly rejection, depending on severity) is necessary on their life insurance policy.

The underwriter will use medical records (especially those related to treatment for substance abuse and psychiatric illness), social profile, motor vehicle reports, laboratory results, and physical findings to assess the risk associated with excessive alcohol consumption.

Complications of alcohol excess significant to life underwriting:

  • Cardiac: Atrial fibrillation, cardiomyopathy, hypertension
  • Nervous System: Blackouts, seizures, delirium tremens (DTs), peripheral neuropathy, tremors, brain damage, psychosis, balance, and gait impairments.
  • Gastrointestinal: Fatty liver, hepatitis, cirrhosis, pancreatitis, gastrointestinal bleeding (sometimes massive) due to gastritis, varices, and esophagitis, cancer, diarrhea.
  • Bone Marrow: Abnormal blood counts, including anemia.
  • Psychiatric and Social Issues: Depression, anxiety, suicide, violent behavior, marital/occupational/familial problems, abuse of other drugs, and alcohol.
  • Miscellaneous: Aspiration pneumonia, accidents, and trauma.

Alcoholism is a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psycho-social, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease can be progressive and fatal. It is characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, alcohol use despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial.

Each of these symptoms may be continuous or periodic. Therefore, besides the risks associated with excess alcohol intake, the underwriter also considers favorable historical items such as:

  • Age of applicant
  • Length of sobriety
  • Current blood test results
  • Driving record
  • Relapses
  • History of any other substance abuse
  • Active participation in Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Voluntary initiation of treatment
  • A single period of treatment or hospitalization
  • Maintenance of stable family life
  • Sustained employment
  • Financial solvency
  • Good health without reports of violence or arrests

If the individual can successfully stop drinking alcohol without relapse, the general population’s mortality rate approaches after seven to ten years.


Factors in the Decision Process

  • Age of the applicant
  • Length of sobriety
  • Treatment
  • Current blood test results
  • Participation in support groups
  • Driving record
  • Relapses
  • History of other substance abuse
  • Medical impairments caused or related to the applicant’s alcoholism

Guidelines for Coverage

  • Minimum of 2 years of sobriety
  • Current alcohol use after treatment typically is declined

Drug Abuse (excluding marijuana)

Factors in the Decision Process

  • Age of the applicant
  • Length of sobriety
  • Treatment
  • Current blood test results
  • Participation in support groups
  • Driving record
  • Relapses
  • History of alcohol abuse
  • Medical impairments caused or related to the applicant’s drug abuse
  • Criminal history
  • Participation in aviation or avocation

Guidelines for Coverage

  • 3 years of abstinence with no relapses is required
  • If drug abuse and alcoholism are detected together, coverage could be declined

To be considered for life insurance coverage for an alcoholic is a minimum postponement of 2 years of favorable historical items mentioned above.

In fact, after 7 years of sobriety, a Preferred rating could be considered and Preferred Plus after 10 years of sobriety.

This means you have to be “good and healthy” for at least 2 years.

Coverage may be adjusted depending on the severity of the excess, the severity of associated complications, evidence of alcohol dependence and/or withdrawal, legal problems related to alcohol such as Driving Under the Influence (DUI), abuse of other drugs, number of relapses, and current participation in a group such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

*This material is intended for insurance informational purposes only and is not personal medical advice for clients.  Rates and availability will vary based on the satisfaction of the underwriting criteria.

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Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

I’m a licensed financial professional focusing on annuities and insurance for more than a decade. My former role was training financial advisors, including for a Fortune Global 500 insurance company. I’ve been featured in Time Magazine, Yahoo! Finance, MSN, SmartAsset, Entrepreneur, Bloomberg, The Simple Dollar, U.S. News and World Report, and Women’s Health Magazine.

The Annuity Expert is an online insurance agency servicing consumers across the United States. My goal is to help you take the guesswork out of retirement planning or find the best insurance coverage at the cheapest rates for you. 

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