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Can you still buy life insurance if you've used drugs?

Although it could depend on the drug, getting life insurance coverage while using drugs may be extremely difficult.

When you apply for life insurance, you’ll probably be asked questions about your current and past alcohol and drug use. If you’ve abused alcohol or drugs in the past, your eligibility for life insurance may be limited.

The most important thing to know when it comes to drugs and life insurance is that a lot of it depends on your individual situation and health condition. This is true for every life insurance policy, but it's especially true if you've used drugs in the past.

If you are currently using illicit drugs, you will be denied. For most life insurance companies, you will need to be drug-free or out of rehab for a certain number of years before even being considered.

If you used to use drugs or have an addiction to alcohol, there are five things you should know about life insurance policies:

1. Expect a lot of questions about your drug use

In order for the insurance company to know how much to charge you, they’re going to ask you a few questions about your past. Not every insurance company asks all of these questions, but this is a good list of what to expect:

  • 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 (cancer, heart disease, HIV, etc.) because of your drug use?
  • What is your current situation? 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 clean?

To break it down even further, here are more things to note depending on your specific drug use:

Alcohol

If you were addicted to alcohol, the most lenient life insurance carrier will require that you're at least two years out of rehab before they consider your application.

Tobacco

Tobacco users can expect to pay at least three times more than nonsmokers for life insurance coverage. Tobacco products include cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and even e-cigarettes. Because of the high amount of lethal diseases associated with tobacco use, life insurance companies consider your tobacco use to be very high-risk.

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Tobacco-product users will need to be at least two years nicotine-free in order to qualify for the “preferred” life insurance classification, which is one of the best. (More on classifications later.)

Life insurance companies may make an exception for cigars, as long as they’re the only type of tobacco product you consume regularly. Even then, to qualify for the best rates, there may be limits on the number of cigars you can smoke per month.

Marijuana

As marijuana use becomes decriminalized in more and more states, life insurance companies have started to adapt their underwriting guidelines to be more lenient toward smoking weed. Recently, some life insurance companies have even started classifying occasional, recreational marijuana users in the highest category, but only if you smoke just a handful of times per year.

More frequent pot smokers can still qualify for good rates, but the most frequent smokers will likely be classified the same as tobacco smokers, which means high premiums.

Medical marijuana users will have to pay higher rates, but not because of the dispensary-grade weed. That’s because whatever medical condition you have that you’re treating with medical marijuana is probably serious enough to raise your level of risk.

Hard drugs

If you’re currently using harder drugs, like cocaine, meth, heroin, or painkillers that haven’t been prescribed by a doctor, you can expect an automatic denial of your life insurance application. You’ll need to demonstrate that you’ve been drug-free for a certain number of years, which varies between insurers, before you can receive coverage.

2. Be honest about your past

When the insurer asks if you’ve ever used drugs, it doesn’t help to answer, “I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too.” You need to give a straight answer, because if you deliberately withhold information on your life insurance application that you reasonably could've known, there's a possibility that your life insurance company would move to rescind (a.k.a. cancel) your life insurance policy.

What counts as something that you "reasonably could've known?" If you did a line once or twice in high school, but are now in your mid-thirties, it's reasonable that you forgot about it. On the other hand, if you were checked into rehab five years for drug abuse and forget to mention it on your application, it's a lot less reasonable that you forgot.

Although admitting to the drug use will cause your premiums to go up, or even render you ineligible for coverage at all, falsely representing your substance abuse can cause you serious problems with your life insurance coverage later down the line. That’s because every life insurance policy includes a two-year contestability period immediately after coverage begins during which the carrier will investigate any claim. If you die during the contestability period, but you failed to mention drug or alcohol abuse when you signed the policy, the insurer may cancel your policy and leave your beneficiaries with nothing except a refund of your premium payments.

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, and the life insurance company will not be able to share your medical information without your permission.

However, it may difficult to hide drug use anyway. During the underwriting process of your life insurance application, the insurer will often require you to take a medical exam, and afterward ask for information about your health from your doctor. The medical exam includes a blood and urine test that could reveal the presence of illicit substances in your system, and your doctor could tell the insurer about any drugs he or she knows you’re doing.

3. Be familiar with life insurance classifications

When it comes to life insurance, there are typically four classifications: Preferred Plus, Preferred, Standard Plus, and Standard. (Although each insurance company varies in what they call the classifications, this is generally what you’ll see.) To place you in a classification, insurance companies will consider things like height, age, weight, medications you take, drug and alcohol abuse, lifestyle, and family history.

Sometimes, a former addict can be placed in Preferred if he’s been completely clean and sober for years – anywhere between 10 and 15 years, depending on the carrier. As explained above, for the purpose of classification, marijuana users are looked upon more favorably by life insurers than users of harder drugs. However, some insurers issue a Tobacco or Nicotine classification for marijuana users, which takes whatever insurance classification you’d get otherwise and adds a caveat to it that could significantly raise your premiums.

In addition to the four classifications, there is also a Substandard category for people with complex medical situations, chronic or severe health issues, and alarming family health history. Substandard premiums are the most expensive.

4. Know there are other options for life insurance coverage

If you think a term life insurance policy will be impossible to qualify for, consider a simplified-issue or guaranteed-issue life insurance policy. They allow you to bypass the medical exam. However, buyer beware: These policies generally cost way more than traditional life insurance policies and usually have a lower coverage amount.

Even if you think you won't qualify for term life insurance, you should still apply. It's free to apply, and you may find out that you can get affordable rates for the coverage you need.

You may also be eligible for group life insurance coverage, which may be offered by your employer. For group life insurance, you won’t have to take a medical exam or even answer any questions about your health. However, coverage amounts are typically lower than individual life insurance policies.

5. Shop around for the best insurance rate

When it comes to finding the best rate, a licensed representative from Policygenius can help you find a life insurance company that will work with your lifestyle. By comparing quotes across a number of insurers, you can select one offers the best rates for former addicts, current users (of certain substances), and other high-risk cases.

Disclaimer: Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by an insurance agent. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.

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