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When you apply for life insurance you’ll be asked standard questions about your health, including current and past alcohol and drug use. Depending on the substance involved, recreational users should be able to find a policy. But if you’ve abused alcohol or drugs in the past, your eligibility for life insurance may be limited.
For most life insurance companies, you will need to be drug-free or out of rehab for several years before you’ll be offered a policy. If you are currently using illicit drugs you will be denied traditional coverage, but might be able to get limited final expense or group insurance.
Providers are generally lenient toward casual drinkers and marijuana smokers
Current alcohol abuse or illicit drug use will result in automatic declines
Recovering substance users may need to demonstrate sobriety for five to 10 years or more to receive coverage
Final expense or group life insurance may be alternatives if you don’t qualify for a traditional policy
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 declined coverage.
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.
Whether you’ll pay more for coverage or be declined coverage for your drug use depends on your personal history and the substance involved. Here are common questions your underwriter might ask:
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?
No matter your history, it’s important to be completely honest with your insurance provider. It’s considered fraud to deliberately withhold information from your insurer. Once a lie is discovered, your policy application or active coverage could be canceled.
If you can’t get approved for traditional life insurance coverage, you may have other options, such as final expense insurance or an employer-sponsored plan.
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, even the most lenient 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 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. You’ll be classified as a smoker for using:
Cigars (depending on frequency)
Marijuana (varies by 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.
Life insurance attitudes toward marijuana vary widely across providers as marijuana laws continue to change. Some providers will offer their best rates to frequent pot smokers, while others will only offer the best rates to occasional users.
Medical marijuana users will pay higher rates, but not because of their regular weed 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.
Ready to shop for 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 your medical information without your permission.
Even if you think you won’t qualify for a traditional life insurance policy, it’s worth speaking with an independent agent first. An agent can compare multiple insurance companies to find a provider that can help you get the coverage you need.
If you find you’re unable to qualify for a traditional 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.
Ready to shop for life insurance?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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