The road to recovery from drug or alcohol addiction is rarely smooth and can be full of detours and obstacles; even everyday events can pose a challenge. Current or former drug users searching for a life insurance policy may have a difficult task ahead of them. Life insurance companies use factors such as prior medical history and current health and lifestyle choices to determine whether an applicant is eligible for coverage and their insurance costs. While it is not impossible to secure life insurance, people recovering from addiction may have limited options and pay much higher premiums. Bankrate has put together this guide that may help people in recovery discover their life insurance options.

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Can you qualify for life insurance if you’ve used drugs?

Yes. While qualifying for life insurance is typically more difficult if you are recovering from addiction, not all life insurance companies or policy types are the same. Each life insurance provider may have different conditions and sobriety timeframes, so shopping for coverage with several companies can help you find coverage. Insurance companies that accept policyholders with a drug or alcohol abuse background typically require two to three years of sobriety without a relapse.

There are two main types of life insurance: term life and permanent life.

Term life insurance

Term life insurance policies are usually the less expensive option since the policy contract is for a predetermined amount of time instead of the policyholder’s whole life. Typical policies provide coverage between 10 to 30 years. These policies may work well for people looking to provide financial support to their beneficiary during specific time frames, such as the length of a mortgage loan.

Permanent life insurance

Permanent life insurance policies stay in effect for a policyholder’s whole life, as long as premiums are paid, and are generally more expensive than term life since the death benefit is more likely to be paid. It also has a cash value component that earns interest. You can access these funds via policy loans or withdrawals, depending on the policy type. Permanent life policies are often purchased to pay for funeral-related expenses, take care of any outstanding debt and provide financial support for the beneficiary.

What is the best type of life insurance for drug users?

A medical questionnaire and exam are standard with both types of life insurance for individuals using recreational drugs and those suffering from drug addiction. Those who partake in recreational drug use, such as marijuana, have many life insurance options and may even be eligible to skip a medical exam with some insurers. However, individuals with a history of drug abuse may have fewer options. Listed below are some of the best options for life insurance if you’re finding it difficult to get coverage approval.

Burial insurance

Burial insurance is a type of permanent life insurance policy with lower death benefit limits and is intended only to cover funeral expenses. It typically has a low premium, and the average benefit selection is between $5,000 and $25,000.

Group life insurance

Group life insurance is often offered by employers and tends to be incredibly cheap — sometimes only a few dollars a month — or even free for employees. However, coverage is usually only active during your employment with the company. Depending on the plan your employer selected, you may have much higher coverage limits. Medical questionnaires or exams are generally only required for the highest selections, which can be $200,000 or above.

Guaranteed life insurance

Guaranteed life is permanent life insurance that doesn’t require medical underwriting for those eligible, but it also has one of the most expensive premiums relative to the coverage amount. The death benefit is usually $25,000 or less. Since forgoing a medical exam poses a higher risk to insurers, there is usually a two-year waiting period before the full face value of the policy would become available to beneficiaries.

Pre-need insurance

Pre-need insurance is a permanent type of policy where the life insurance company and funeral home work in tandem, or you could purchase the insurance directly from the funeral home. This option comes with the benefit of you selecting your funeral arrangements ahead of time and allows the funeral home to be paid directly upon your death.

Common life insurance underwriting questions

Typically, insurance companies that accept policyholders with a background of drug or alcohol abuse require a minimum of two to three years of sobriety without a relapse. There is an increased mortality risk associated with former addicts, and to account for this, you may be placed in a high-risk group with more expensive premiums.

It can be tempting to withhold information to get a more affordable life insurance policy, but don’t do this. Underwriters will look into your medical records, public records and even social media accounts. If you are applying for life insurance that requires a medical exam, a blood sample is often required. Being dishonest about addiction problems can cause your application to be denied and stop the policy from being issued. Here are some common questions you can expect when you apply for a life insurance policy:

  • How long have you been sober?
  • How long did you do drugs?
  • What drugs were you addicted to?
  • How did you administer them?
  • Are you currently using drugs now?
  • Have you ever relapsed? How many times? For how long?
  • Have you sought treatment? Do you attend a support group?
  • Are you employed? For how long?
  • Has your addiction impacted your driving record?
  • Do you have support from family or friends?
  • Do you have any disabilities as a result of your addiction?

How insurers assess drug use

If you use drugs, your life insurance provider will typically view you as a greater risk to insure. For insurers, the main concern is around the health risks associated with drug use. For example, smoking tobacco lowers life expectancy at least 10 years, according to the CDC. And alcohol use is associated with major diseases like liver cirrhosis and cardiovascular disease, along with a greater risk of fatal car accidents.

Because of the risks associated with the practice, it’s understandable that life insurance companies would want to know about an applicant’s drug use.

If you’ve previously been to rehab or are still getting clean, you may have to wait to apply for a life insurance policy until that part of your life is far enough in the past that you will qualify for coverage. Every insurance provider has different standards, but those still using are unlikely to qualify for most policies.

Prescription medications

When applying for life insurance, some prescription medications may not influence your application, while others are considered higher risk by insurers. Notably:

  • Addiction treatment drugs: Medications like suboxone, used for opioid addiction treatment, are often a concern for insurers. It could cause denial, impact premiums and raise questions about your health history.
  • Painkillers and muscle relaxers: These are often temporary prescriptions. You may consider applying for life insurance after you’re no longer using them. Due to addiction risks and the potential for fatal outcomes, especially when combined with alcohol, insurers might increase premiums. Always be upfront about their usage.
  • Prescription marijuana: The impact of prescribed marijuana on life insurance varies depending on the state and insurer’s policies. It’s important to disclose the reasons for its prescription.
  • Other medications: Medications for mental health, diabetes and HIV might also affect premiums due to the health risks associated with these conditions.

For those wondering about specific scenarios like whether life insurance covers an overdose, the coverage can vary based on the policy terms and the insurer. In the case of an overdose, life insurance companies will typically take time to investigate the death prior to making a decision on the claim. Sometimes, a death caused by an overdose is ruled as death by suicide, and the life insurance policy will likely have a specific clause about suicide.

It’s crucial to discuss these details with a licensed insurance agent to understand how your medication history may affect coverage options and rates. Transparency with your insurer could be the key for the best outcomes.

Marijuana

If you only smoke recreationally a few times a year, you may still qualify for the lowest rates from some marijuana-friendly life insurance providers. In some cases, you may be classified based on your frequency of use, so if it’s occasional, you can still get good rates. On the other hand, if you’re a daily marijuana smoker, you may be classified as a tobacco smoker, which will typically result in higher premiums.

Illicit drugs

Drugs like heroin and cocaine are illegal for many reasons, not the least of which is due to the increased health and safety risks associated with abuse of narcotics. Even decades after treatment, previous heroin users have a shortened life expectancy, according to the National Institutes of Health. If you spent time in a rehab facility dealing with your addiction, you’ll need to disclose your past drug use, which may result in higher premiums. However, some insurers may still cover you if you’ve been clean for several years.

Alcohol

Life insurance companies will inquire about how frequently you drink, if you have ever needed treatment for alcohol abuse and if you have ever received a DUI/DWI. Alcohol abuse can cause severe physical and mental complications such as depression, high blood pressure, liver and pancreas damage and lower your immune system.

Tobacco

Smoking, vaping, chewing tobacco and cigars all negatively impact your health and can shorten life expectancy by 10 years. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it only takes five cigarettes a day to cause cardiovascular disease. Increased chances of a heart attack, stroke, and cancer of the lungs, throat, and mouth are other factors that cause high life insurance premiums for tobacco users. Many insurance companies will consider someone a non-smoker after 12 months of being tobacco-free, but they may still pay more than someone who has never been a smoker.

What to do if you are denied life insurance because of drug use

If you are currently using drugs, you will need to get clean and stay free of drugs for, typically, a few years or more before any insurer will cover you. But if you are managing your addiction and have been clean for years, keep in mind that every insurer weighs your information a little differently when assessing your risk. One insurer might require you to be drug-free for five years, while others could say two years.

Even if you didn’t get denied, it is wise to compare quotes from a few other life insurance providers to keep your insurance costs low since not all insurance companies will offer similar premiums. It may be difficult to determine which company will have the most favorable rates for your situation until you compare.

Frequently asked questions

    • The best life insurance company for you will depend on a number of factors, including your coverage needs and your budget, as well as whether or not eligibility will be a factor. To find the best provider for you, it can be helpful to calculate your life insurance needs, then compare quotes from a handful of insurers able to provide the type of coverage you want. Or, you can start by researching insurers that will be more lenient towards your individual health conditions, including past addiction.
    • It depends on the situation. If you pass away within the policy’s contestability period, typically the first two years of policy activation, and you were not honest about your drug use, the insurance company may reduce or deny your beneficiary’s claim, depending on their investigation. If you pass away outside of the contestability period, your beneficiaries would likely receive the full death benefit. Typically, life insurance companies will pay your beneficiaries if you die from any accident, including an accidental drug overdose. If the drug overdose is determined to be death by suicide, then the payout would not occur if death occurs during the suicide contestability period. Speak with a licensed agent when shopping for providers to learn how the different insurers handle these situations.