When you apply for life insurance, you’ll be asked questions about your health and lifestyle, including current and past alcohol and drug use. You may also have to take a medical exam, where you’ll be tested for drug, nicotine, and alcohol use. If you don’t have a history of substance abuse and only use alcohol or marijuana recreationally, you’ll generally be able to get covered.
But if you’ve abused alcohol or drugs in the past, you may not qualify for traditional life insurance policies until you’ve been drug-free or out of rehab for at least two or three years, and sometimes as many as 10. However, different insurers have different rules and guidelines.
How does substance use affect your ability to get life insurance?
Casual substance users can apply for life insurance and expect to find coverage.But due to the potential for relapse and associated health conditions, a documented history of drug or alcohol abuse could raise the cost of your premiums or make it more difficult to get covered.
During the life insurance application process, the insurer evaluates you for health and lifestyle risks in order to set your premiums. The higher your risk, the higher your rates will be. For instance, if you have a history of illegal drug or alcohol abuse in the last five years, you may be denied life insurance.
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.
If you’re a casual drinker, you shouldn’t have a problem finding life insurance. But if you have a documented history of addiction, most life insurance companies will decline your application for traditional coverage until you’re at least two to three years sober.
Even after that time, you’ll pay much more in premiums than someone without a history of alcohol abuse. To receive some of the cheapest rates, you’ll need to stay sober for five 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, but you’ll likely still be able to get covered.
You’ll be classified as a smoker for using:
Cigars (depending on frequency)
Tobacco users need to be nicotine-free for at least one to three years (depending on the insurance company) in order to qualify for non-smoker life insurance rates.
Each insurance company has its own guidelines when it comes to marijuana. Some insurers offer lower rates to frequent marijuana users, while others only offer the best rates only to occasional users. Frequent marijuana smokers may be assigned the same smoker classification as tobacco users.
Medical marijuana users will generally be evaluated based on the health condition in question first. For instance, medical marijuana used to treat cancer will have a bigger impact than medical marijuana used to treat mild anxiety.
Insurance companies ask specific questions about the use of illegal substances when you apply for coverage. Additionally, the medical exam that’s a standard part of the application process includes blood and urine tests, where you’ll be tested for substance use.
If you’re currently using illegal drugs, you can expect an automatic denial of your application for traditional term or whole life insurance.
You’ll need to demonstrate that you’ve been drug-free for at least five years before you can receive traditional coverage (the exact length of time varies by insurer). It will take even longer, often 10 years or more, before you’ll be considered for an insurer’s lowest rates.
While life insurance companies are following the latest research when it comes to new drugs, they still see the use of psychedelics as an insurance risk similar to other illegal drugs.
If you’re currently using or have recently used psilocybin — a psychedelic drug produced by mushrooms — you’ll have to wait at least two to three years to apply for traditional life insurance with most insurers.
However, each insurance company has its own guidelines pertaining to different types of substance use, so it’s best to work with an independent insurance broker to find the right company if you have a history of drug use.
What questions about substance use will an insurance company ask when you apply?
Here are questions the insurance company might ask about past drug use during your application:
What types of drugs have you used?
Did you receive inpatient or outpatient treatment related to drug use? If so, for how long?
What was the date of your last treatment?
Were you ever hospitalized because of your addiction?
Did you experience relapse? If so, how many times?
Do you now have medical issues related to your drug use?
What substances do insurance companies test for?
The substances the life insurance drug test can detect include:
Additionally, the blood and urine tests included in the medical exam test for signs of tobacco and alcohol use:
Nicotine and cotinine, which is an alkaloid found in tobacco that can stay in the body and be detected by a urine test for at least several days.
Carbohydrate-deficient transferrin (CDT), which can be detected in a blood test and is a common sign of heavy alcohol consumption.  For insurance purposes, heavy consumption is defined as about five drinks per day.
Do you need to be honest about your drug use when buying life insurance?
You should be honest with any history of drug use — as well as with the rest of the information on your application — even if you initially think you won’t have to take a medical exam
All insurance companies will verify your answers against your health records through the Medical information Bureau (MIB) to prevent fraud.
Additionally, the medical exam typically includes routine blood and urine testing that will look for the presence of drugs, tobacco, and alcohol, — so it’s nearly impossible to conceal any drug use anyway.
If a potential issue is flagged during the drug test, it can delay the approval process. Andif you’re caught intentionally withholding information, it qualifies as insurance fraud. You could 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, rest assured that your medical information is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). In other words, the life insurance company can’t share that information without your permission.
What if you get denied life insurance coverage?
Group life insurance: Offered by many employers, this type of life insurance usually provides one to two times your annual salary in coverage for an affordable price, or part of a benefits package. It usually doesn’t require a medical exam or health qualifications for approval.
Guaranteed issue life insurance: This is a type of final expense insurance geared toward covering end-of-life expenses, like a funeral or medical bills. While it comes with high premiums, lower coverage limits, and some age restrictions, it offers near-guaranteed acceptance.
It may be harder for current or past substance users to find life insurance coverage, but it’s not impossible. Working with an independent broker like Policygenius can help you compare quotes across multiple providers to find the right company for your circumstances.
Other health concerns that can affect your life insurance
Certain pre-existing conditions and other health-related concerns can affect your life insurance options or costs. A Policygenius expert can help you find the right policy for your needs.
Mental health issues such as depression or anxiety