Drug- and Alcohol-Related Disqualifiers

Dangerous drug and alcohol use can disqualify a person from passing a security clearance. There are certain factors that could prove an individual’s trustworthiness as a candidate despite their past lapses in substance use, however. Keep reading this blog to learn more about how to address a drug- or alcohol-related incident in relation to security clearance.

Disqualifying Drug and Alcohol Use


A person’s security clearance can be denied if their background check shows dangerous drug use. Irresponsible or illicit use of drugs could be perceived as evidence of untrustworthiness, and this will deter an applicant from passing a security clearance because clearance allows the privilege of accessing sensitive matter related to national security.

Some examples of disqualifying conduct related to drug use could be:

  • contact with any drugs or controlled substances named in the Controlled Substance Act of 1970;
  • history of drug abuse;
  • positive drug test;
  • drug convictions for sale, cultivation, manufacture, possession, or distribution;
  • failure to finish a substance abuse treatment program;

Note that the drug use does not have to be consistent for it to affect a person’s security clearance. Even if an individual smoked a little pot in college, it may fall within the scope of a person’s background investigation, and the person will need to list that recreational use. This is primarily because it is much better to be honest than to have been found to be lying, which suggests even more untrustworthiness. An individual could also be prosecuted for the false statement in severe cases. Even though drug use, even a little, can disqualify an individual from security clearance, honesty may help to address the situation. For instance, a person can explain how they have matured since college and have sworn off drug use, or they can show evidence of enrolling in a treatment program to overcome their drug use.


Like illicit drug use, alcoholism can also suggest an individual’s poor judgment and lack of self-control, which is a significant security clearance disqualifier. Those reviewing a person’s background may be hesitant to clear them if their record shows dangerous or unpredictable alcohol use.

Some instances of alcoholism that can disqualify a candidate are:

  • driving under the influence;
  • history of binge or habitual drinking;
  • diagnosis of alcohol abuse from a qualified medical expert;
  • offenses related to child abuse, domestic violence, or disturbing the peace.

Be aware that DUI could be seen as a defect in both impulse control and judgment (the decision to drive). While going to classes, paying fines, and never drinking and driving again speak to an individual’s recovery attempts, the government may still doubt their ability to safeguard classified information if they are still drinking, even if in moderation. If the person is willing to abstain from alcohol for an extended period of time (18-24 months or more), they may be able to overcome adverse assumptions about their continued drinking by showing that they can handle abstinence and have since learned to self-moderate.

Keep in mind that although DUI on an individual’s record could disqualify them from clearance, there are a few factors that could lessen a person’s likelihood of a security clearance denial related to a past DUI if:

  • the incident occurred a long time ago;
  • the individual can demonstrate that the behavior leading to the DUI does not accurately represent their current patterns of behavior;
  • they have since taken steps to move past any alcohol abuse issues.

Note that while dangerous alcohol use is a potential security clearance disqualifier, alcoholism is technically a medical condition and thus not a per se disqualifier. In other words, Alcoholism and drug addiction are recognized as a disease under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), so any admission of Alcoholics Anonymous involvement will not immediately disqualify a person from clearance. If an individual has addressed a problem with alcohol or drugs, whether by engaging in a treatment or recovery program, this could show security officials that the individual has attempted to mitigate alcohol concerns. Their decision to proactively address the problem speaks to their character and suggests there will not be a major concern of trustworthiness or responsibility after clearance.

Questions? Contact Claery & Hammond, LLP!

If you have questions about your history of drug or alcohol use, whether minor, recreational, or consistent, speak to an experienced security clearance lawyer immediately for legal guidance. While drug and alcohol use can disqualify a candidate, note that attempts to show they have overcome substance abuse could speak positively on their behalf. Individuals can show that they:

  • have enrolled in a treatment program;
  • have completed a rehabilitation program;
  • have evidence that the conduct will not be repeated.

Let a lawyer at Claery & Hammond, LLP examine the facts of your situation and help you move forward in the security clearance process.

Contact one of our attorneys at Claery & Hammond, LLP today for a free case evaluation.