Can You Lose Security Clearance Trying to Get Help for Alcohol or Drug Addiction?

Posted on Jun 22, 2015 By Ron Sykstus

Attorney Ronald SykstusA recent article discussed the vast number of people suffering from alcohol addiction.  The article noted that “Alcohol’s addictive qualities are well-documented. Approximately 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence, according to the NIAAA. Alcoholics in withdrawal can suffer from anxiety and depression, headaches, insomnia, nausea, fever and even seizures.”

The article also explored marijuana usage and noted that “the  National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates 9% of people who use marijuana will become addicted to it.” Another recent article noted that problem drinking affects 33 million or 14 percent of US adults.

If someone has an alcohol or drug problem and holds a security clearance which allows them access to classified material, do they risk losing their clearance if they seek help?  The unqualified answer is no.  Left unchecked, a person suffering from an alcohol or drug addiction will likely suffer from other consequences (DUI, public intoxication charge, positive result on drug screenings required by almost all positions where a security clearance is required, financial ruin, divorce, etc.) which would negatively impact a security clearance anyway.  Additionally, there is the secondary issue, even more concerning for clearance reviews, of a potential misstatement on the SF 86.  Here are a list of questions currently on the SF 86 that all individuals requesting or renewing a security clearance must answer as they relate to alcohol and drug usage:

  • Have you EVER been charged with an offense involving alcohol or drugs?
  • We note, with reference to this section, that neither your truthful responses nor information derived from your responses to this section will be used as evidence against you in a subsequent criminal proceeding. As to this particular section, this applies whether or not you are currently employed by the Federal government. The following questions pertain to the illegal use of drugs or controlled substances or drug or controlled substance activity.
  • In the last seven (7) years, have you illegally used any drugs or controlled substances? Use of a drug or controlled substance includes injecting, snorting, inhaling, swallowing, experimenting with or otherwise consuming any drug or controlled substance
  • Complete the following if you answered ‘Yes’ to in the last seven (7) years having illegally used a drug or controlled substance: Provide the type of drug or controlled substance.
    • Cocaine or crack cocaine (Such as rock, freebase, etc.)
    • THC (Such as marijuana, weed, pot, hashish, etc.)
    • Ketamine (Such as special K, jet, etc.)
    • Narcotics (Such as opium, morphine, codeine, heroin, etc.)
    • Stimulants (Such as amphetamines, speed, crystal meth, ecstasy, etc.)
    • Depressants (Such as barbiturates, metha qualone, tranquilizers, etc.)
    • Hallucinogenic (Such as LSD, PCP, mushrooms, etc.)
    • Steroids (Such as the clear, juice, etc.)
    • Inhalants (Such as toluene, amyl nitrate, etc.)
    • Other: (Provide explanation)
    • Provide an estimate of the month and year of first use. (Month/Year)
    • Provide an estimate of the month and year of most recent use. (Month/Year)
    • Provide nature of use, frequency, and number of times used.
  • In the last seven (7) years, have you been involved in the illegal purchase, manufacture, cultivation, trafficking, production, transfer, shipping, receiving, handling or sale of any drug or controlled substance?
  • Have you EVER illegally used or otherwise been involved with a drug or controlled substance while possessing a security clearance other than previously listed?
  • In the last seven (7) years have you intentionally engaged in the misuse of prescription drugs, regardless of whether or not the drugs were prescribed for you or someone else?
  • Complete the following if you responded ‘Yes’ to in the last seven (7) years having intentionally engaged in the misuse of prescription drugs, regardless of whether the drugs were prescribed for you or someone else:
    • Provide the name of the prescription drug that you misused.
    • Provide the dates of the involvement/use. (Month/Year) to (Month/Year)
    • Provide the reason(s) for and circumstances of the misuse of the prescription drug.
    • Was your involvement while you were employed as a law enforcement officer, prosecutor, or courtroom official, or while in a position directly and immediately affecting the public safety?
    • Was your involvement while possessing a security clearance?
  • Have you EVER been ordered, advised, or asked to seek counseling or treatment as a result of your illegal use of drugs or controlled substances?
  • Complete the following if you responded ‘Yes’ to having EVER been ordered, advised, or asked to seek counseling or treatment as a result of your illegal use of drugs or controlled substances:
    • Have any of the following ordered, advised, or asked you to seek counseling or treatment as a result of your illegal use of drugs or controlled substances?
      • An employer, military commander, or employee assistance program
      • A medical professional
      • A mental health professional
      • A court official / judge
      • I have not been ordered, advised, or asked to seek counseling or treatment by any of the above
      • Other: Provide explanation.
    • Did you take action to receive counseling or treatment?
      • You have indicated that you did not receive treatment. Provide explanation.
      • You have indicated that you did receive treatment. Provide the type of drug or controlled substance for which you were treated:
        • Cocaine or crack cocaine (Such as rock, freebase, etc.)
        • THC (Such as marijuana, weed, pot, hashish, etc.)
        • Ketamine (Such as special K, jet, etc.)
        • Narcotics (Such as opium, morphine, codeine, heroin, etc.)
        • Stimulants (Such as amphetamines, speed, crystal meth, ecstasy, etc.)
        • Depressants (Such as barbiturates, metha qualone, tranquilizers, etc.)
        • Hallucinogenic (Such as LSD, PCP, mushrooms, etc.)
        • Steroids (Such as the clear, juice, etc.)
        • Inhalants (Such as toluene, amyl nitrate, etc.)
        • Other: (Provide explanation)
      • Provide the name of the treatment provider.
      • Provide the address for this treatment provider.
      • Provide a telephone number for the treatment provider.
      • Provide the dates of treatment.
      • Did you successfully complete treatment?
    • Have you EVER voluntarily sought counseling or treatment as a result of your use of a drug or controlled substance?
    • Complete the following if you responded ‘Yes’ to having EVER voluntarily sought counseling or treatment as a result of your use of a drug or controlled substance:
      • Provide the type of drug or controlled substance for which you were treated.
        • Cocaine or crack cocaine (Such as rock, freebase, etc.)
        • THC (Such as marijuana, weed, pot, hashish, etc.)
        • Ketamine (Such as special K, jet, etc.)
        • Narcotics (Such as opium, morphine, codeine, heroin, etc.)
        • Stimulants (Such as amphetamines, speed, crystal meth, ecstasy, etc.)
        • Depressants (Such as barbiturates, metha qualone, tranquilizers, etc.)
        • Hallucinogenic (Such as LSD, PCP, mushrooms, etc.)
        • Steroids (Such as the clear, juice, etc.)
        • Inhalants (Such as toluene, amyl nitrate, etc.)
        • Other: (Provide explanation)
      • Provide the name of the treatment provider.
      • Provide the address for this treatment provider.
      • Provide a telephone number for the treatment provider.
      • Provide the dates of treatment.
      • Did you successfully complete treatment?
  • In the last seven (7) years has your use of alcohol had a negative impact on your work performance, your professional or personal relationships, your finances, or resulted in intervention by law enforcement/public safety personnel?
    • Complete the following if you responded ‘Yes’ to your alcohol use having had a negative impact on your work performance, your professional or personal relationships, your finances, or resulted in intervention by law enforcement/public safety personnel:
      • Provide the dates of involvement or use (Month/Year) to (Month/Year)
      • Provide the month/year when this negative impact occurred. Provide circumstances. Provide negative impact.
  • Have you EVER been ordered, advised, or asked to seek counseling or treatment as a result of your use of alcohol?
    • Complete the following if you responded ‘Yes’ to having been ordered, advised, or asked to seek counseling or treatment as a result of your use of alcohol:
      • Have any of the following ordered, advised, or asked you to seek counseling or treatment as a result of your use of alcohol?
        • An employer, military commander, or employee assistance program
        • A medical professional
        • A mental health professional
        • A court official / judge
        • I have not been ordered, advised, or asked to seek counseling or treatment by any of the above
        • Other: Provide explanation.
      • Did you take action to receive counseling or treatment?
        • You responded ‘No’ to having taken action to seek counseling or treatment. Explain the reasons for not taking action to seek counseling or treatment. Provide explanation.
        • You responded ‘Yes’ to having taken action to seek counseling or treatment.
          • Provide the dates of counseling or treatment. (Month/Year) to (Month/Year)
          • Provide the name of the individual counselor or treatment provider.
          • Provide the full address for the counseling/treatment provider.
          • Provide telephone number
          • Did you successfully complete the treatment? If no, provide explanation.
  • Have you EVER voluntarily sought counseling or treatment as a result of your use of alcohol?
    • Complete the following if you responded ‘Yes’ to voluntarily seeking counseling or treatment:
      • Provide the dates of counseling or treatment. (Month/Year) to (Month/Year)
      • Provide the name of the individual counselor or treatment provider.
      • Provide the full address for the counseling/treatment provider.
      • Provide telephone number
  • Have you EVER received counseling or treatment as a result of your use of alcohol in addition to what you have already listed on this form?
    • Complete the following if you responded ‘Yes’ to having EVER received counseling or treatment as a result of your use of alcohol:
      • Provide the name of the individual counselor or treatment provider.
      • Provide the full address of the counseling/treatment provider.
      • Provide the name of agency/organization where counseling/treatment was provided.
      • Provided the address of the agency/organization where counseling/treatment was provided.
      • Provide the dates of counseling or treatment. (Month/Year) to (Month/Year)
      • Did you successfully complete your counseling or treatment? Provide explanation.

So what can someone do who has these concerns and holds a security clearance?  Get help.  Help is available to fix these type of problems.  My strong recommendation for anyone who is suffering from alcohol or drug addiction is to make a major life change and time investment towards fixing the problem.

Based upon my experience of people who have had addiction issues while holding or trying to get a security clearance, getting help at a reputable in-patient rehabilitation facility along with working a long-term program of recovery thereafter such as AA will not only give that individual his or her life back in a great and positive way, but it will also allow that person to retain or get a security clearance.  Here are the mitigating conditions the government views favorably when someone has an alcohol or drug problem:

Alcohol Consumption

(a) so much time has passed, or the behavior was so infrequent or it happened under such unusual circumstances that it is unlikely to recur or does not cast doubt on the individual’s current reliability, trustworthiness, or good judgment;

(b) the individual acknowledges his or her alcoholism or issues of alcohol abuse, provides evidence of actions taken to overcome this problem, and has established a pattern of abstinence (if alcohol dependent) or responsible use (if an alcohol abuser);

(c) the individual is a current employee who is participating in a counseling or treatment program, has no history of previous treatment and relapse, and is making satisfactory progress;

(d) the individual has successfully completed inpatient or outpatient counseling or rehabilitation along with any required aftercare, has demonstrated a clear and established pattern or modified consumption or abstinence in accordance with treatment recommendations, such as participation in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous or a similar organization and has received a favorable prognosis by a duly qualified medical professional or a licensed clinical social worker who is a staff member of a recognized alcohol treatment program.

Drug Involvement

(a) the behavior happened so long ago, was so infrequent, or happened under such circumstances that it is unlikely to recur or does not cast doubt on the individual’s current reliability, trustworthiness, or good judgment;

(b) a demonstrated intent not to abuse any drugs in the future, such as:

            (1) disassociation from drug-using associates and contacts;

            (2) changing or avoiding the environment where drugs were used;

            (3) an appropriate period of abstinence;

            (4) a signed statement of intent with automatic revocation of clearance for any violation;

(c) abuse of prescription drugs was after a severe or prolonged illness during which these drugs were prescribed, and abuse has since ended;

(d) satisfactory completion of a prescribed drug treatment program, including but not limited to rehabilitation and aftercare requirements, without recurrence of abuse, and a favorable prognosis by a duly qualified medical professional.

My advice to anyone experiencing alcohol or drug problems who has or wants to get a security clearance is to get help fast and to make it stick.  From my experience, a one-time alcohol or drug problem that is treated and worked through a long term and sustained program of recovery is not a road block to keeping or obtaining a security clearance. Several violations, however, can give the government real concern in allowing a person access to classified material.  If someone has a problem, from my perspective, they should do everything in their power to make an initial and long term investment into changing their life permanently.  It is an often stated adage that, if someone has a problem and doesn’t get help and work a long-term program of recovery, their bottom will come fast and hard.  Among other and many problems that are at the bottom, obtaining or seeking a security clearance that allows access to classified material may not be possible.

I have been handling security clearance revocation cases and issues for several years. If you need to speak with someone, feel free to contact me for a confidential consultation.  Some of my most viewed blog posts on the topic of security clearance issues are below.