When you apply for life insurance you’ll be asked questions about your health and lifestyle, including current and past alcohol and drug use. Depending on the substance involved, recreational users should be able to get covered. But if you’ve abused alcohol or drugs in the past, you may not qualify for most policies.
For most life insurance companies, you will need to be drug-free or out of rehab for several years before you’ll be offered coverage. If you are currently using illicit drugs you will be denied standard term and permanent life insurance coverage, but might be able to get limited final expense or group insurance.
Casual drinkers and marijuana smokers generally have few issues getting insured.
Current alcohol abuse or illicit drug use will result in an automatic decline.
Recovering substance users may need to demonstrate sobriety for 5 to 10 years or more to receive coverage.
How does substance use impact life insurance?
During the life insurance underwriting process, your insurer evaluates you for health and lifestyle risks to set your premiums. The higher your risk, the higher your premiums will be. If you’re considered too high risk, you may be denied life insurance.
Being a casual substance user — an occasional marijuana smoker, for example — won’t keep you from getting life insurance. But due to the potential for relapse and associated health conditions, a documented history of drug or alcohol abuse makes you a riskier applicant. You could face coverage denials, especially within your first five years of recovery.
Can you still buy life insurance if you’ve used drugs?
Whether you’ll pay more for coverage or be denied life insurance because of drug use depends on your personal history and the substance involved. Here are questions your underwriter might ask about past drug use:
What types of drugs have you used?
What forms of it did you administer?
How much did you use?
How long did you do drugs?
If you went to rehab, how long were you there? How many times did you have to go?
Were you ever hospitalized because of your addiction?
Did you relapse? If so, how many times?
Do you now have medical issues because of your drug use?
Are you employed?
Do you have a place to stay?
Are you financially stable?
Are you in a healthy relationship and/or surrounded by healthy, supportive friends and family?
How long have you been sober?
Though the questions may feel personal, it’s important to be completely honest with your insurance provider. Your answers help your insurer accurately evaluate your application. Plus, it’s considered fraud to deliberately withhold information from your insurer.
Why you should be honest about your drug use when buying life insurance
You should never conceal substance use from your insurance company. It’s almost impossible to get away with hiding that information — the underwriting process typically includes routine blood and urine testing and a review of your medical records — and being discovered means you lose your policy and your loved ones won’t receive your life insurance proceeds.
If you're concerned that the life insurance company is going to report your drug use to the police or that they'll tell your employer, don't be — your medical information is protected by HIPAA. That means the life insurance company can’t share that information without your permission.
How life insurers evaluate different substance users
Which drug you have a history with will impact how your provider weighs your risk as well. Generally the harder the substance, the less leniency you’ll receive from your insurer. Every application is different, so it’s best to work with an independent insurance broker to find the right company if you have a drug history.
If you’re a casual drinker, you shouldn’t have a problem finding life insurance. But if you were addicted to alcohol, most life insurance providers will decline your coverage until you’re at least three years sober.
Even after three years, you may still receive a Standard or Substandard insurance classification, which will result in much higher premiums. To receive the most affordable rates, you’ll need to stay sober for 5 to 10 years or more.
Tobacco users pay two to three times more for life insurance coverage than non-smokers because of the associated health risks. You’ll be classified as a smoker for using:
Cigars (depending on frequency)
Marijuana (depending on insurer and frequency)
Tobacco users need to be nicotine-free for at least two years in order to qualify for the best life insurance rates.
Underwriting of marijuana use varies across providers. Some insurers offer their best rates to frequent pot smokers, while others only offer the best rates to occasional users.
Medical marijuana users will pay higher rates, but not because of their cannabis use. The medical condition that you’re treating may be serious enough to raise your level of risk.
If you’re currently using illicit drugs, you can expect an automatic denial of your life insurance application. That includes:
Painkillers not prescribed by a doctor
You’ll need to demonstrate that you’ve been drug-free for at least five years, which varies between insurers, before you can receive coverage. It will take even longer, often 10 years or more, before you’ll be considered for an insurer’s best rates.
How can drug users get life insurance coverage?
If you’re unable to qualify for a term or permanent life insurance policy, consider other options that allow you to bypass a medical exam:
Group life insurance: Often offered by employers, these plans are affordable but offer less coverage than most people need.
Guaranteed issue life insurance: Offers near-guaranteed acceptance, but comes with high premiums, lower coverage limits, and some age restrictions.
Simplified issue life insurance: Those with a critical illness or in assisted living may be declined and policies come with similar restrictions to guaranteed issue coverage.
Being a current or former drug user may make it harder for you to find life insurance coverage, but it’s not impossible. Depending on your personal history and the type of drug you use, you may even qualify for competitive rates with some insurers. Compare quotes across multiple providers to find the right company for your circumstances.
Frequently asked questions
How does current drug use affect life insurance?
It depends on the drug and frequency of use. Insurers show leniency toward casual drinkers and marijuana smokers, but hard drug use or alcohol abuse will cause application denials.
How does past drug use impact life insurance?
If you have a history of substance abuse you will need to be at least five years sober before providers will offer you coverage, but you will eventually qualify for traditional life insurance.
Does life insurance cover drug overdoses?
Life insurance will pay out in most cases. The policyholder needs to have been honest in their insurance application and, if the death occured within the policy’s suicide clause period, the overdose cannot have been intentional.