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There are approximately 15 million alcoholics in the U.S. with an estimated 36% in recovery. Having a history of alcohol abuse can make buying life insurance coverage more challenging, as life insurance companies set premiums based partly on current and past health and assign a risk class determined by the applicant’s life expectancy. Alcoholics present a significant risk in insurers’ eyes due to the host of serious illnesses linked to alcoholism and heavy drinking. Recovering alcoholics should understand the process of buying life insurance and how their history of alcohol abuse could affect their chances of being approved.
How alcoholism impacts health
Alcoholism can have a devastating impact on the mental and physical health of a person. Alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD) is “a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences,” as defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Unless treated and on a path of recovery, an alcoholic is likely to be committed to rehab or shorten their life by an average of nearly 29 years. Some of the more serious health risks associated with alcoholism include:
- Liver disease – The liver is the organ in the body that typically “sustains the greatest degree of tissue injury” from alcohol because of its crucial role in metabolizing ethanol. From initial problems such as alcoholic hepatitis, continued excessive alcohol use often leads to irreversible liver scarring and death.
- Cardiovascular health – Prolonged excessive alcohol use is a primary cause of high blood pressure, heart disease and atrial fibrillation. Alcohol abuse can dramatically increase the risk of stroke, with one study reporting up to a 35% increase in associated risk after four or more drinks a day.
- Increased risk of cancer – Chronic alcohol use increases the risk that someone might experience a wide range of cancers, such as cancers of the liver, breast, esophagus, stomach and mouth.
- Psychiatric disorders and dementia – Alcohol abuse often generates symptoms of anxiety, depression and memory loss and could lead to significant antisocial behavior. Ultimately, symptoms may lead to behavior similar to psychosis disorders.
The primary distinction between drinkers and alcoholics is that alcoholics “are physically and mentally dependent on” alcohol. Because of its dependency aspect, alcoholism is classified as an addiction.
Listed below are common categories used to describe different types of drinkers. Each drinker described may experience negative health consequences as a result of drinking episodes.
|Moderate consumption||Moderate drinking, according to the USDA, involves consuming no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.|
|Binge drinking||Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that generates high blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) quickly. For men, having five or more drinks in two hours is considered binge drinking. For women, the amount is four or more drinks in the same period.|
|Problem drinking||Problem drinkers are not considered to be addicted to alcohol and may sometimes not drink at all for long periods. They may not experience withdrawal symptoms when they abstain from drinking like alcoholics do, but when they do drink, problems often occur.|
|Heavy drinking||NIAAA defines heavy alcohol use as drinking more than four drinks a day or more than 14 per week. Women are considered heavy drinkers when they have more than three drinks a day or more than seven per week.|
Life insurance for recovering alcoholics
A key aspect of seeking life insurance as a recovering alcoholic is the length of the applicant’s sobriety. Life insurance companies often consider the length of time in recovery as an indicator of the likelihood of continued sobriety. The more confident the company is in your continued sobriety, the potentially lower your assessed risk and life insurance premium will be. This is because the longer you are sober, the less likely your life expectancy is to be shortened by one of the many health and behavioral issues that affect alcoholics.
Life insurers employ a variety of tools to assess this risk, including the following:
An application questionnaire will usually ask if you have ever been diagnosed with a drug or alcohol problem. Withholding any information about your history or any other issues is not recommended by insurance experts, as it could lead to your policy being voided. As a follow-up, the questionnaire may ask a number of questions to determine how long you have been sober and the steps being taken to maintain sobriety.
Most term or whole life insurance policies require that an applicant undergo a medical examination. The exam may look for current alcohol levels in the bloodstream, but the examiner will also analyze blood and urine samples to see if protein or other abnormalities indicating use over time are present.
It is important to remember that at this stage, most insurance companies require a release permitting the review of all the applicant’s medical records. Prior visits to doctors may have generated chart notes about a concern with alcohol abuse that the applicant is unaware of.
The MIB maintains a database of insurance applications for health and life insurance, where insurers check the information contained to ensure applicant-provided information checks out. If you apply for life insurance and misreport information regarding your mental health history, an insurer could find the discrepancy by looking at your collective MIB data.
Best life insurance for recovering alcoholics
Term life insurance is straightforward and offers a set death benefit if the insured dies during a set term. Documented sobriety may help you to qualify for this policy, and usually, a life insurance company will look for at least five consecutive years of sobriety.
Term life insurance policies typically are 10, 20, or 30 years in length. During the length of the policy, if the policyholder were to die, a death benefit would be paid to the beneficiary.
This is a form of guaranteed insurance and each company providing this coverage may take a different approach. With no exam life insurance, a policy can be acquired with a much shorter waiting period and you may not end up paying significantly more than other traditional policies.
Instead of taking a medical exam, an applicant will complete a detailed questionnaire, which will ask medical questions. For a recovering alcoholic, there is the chance that coverage will be denied depending upon factors such as the length of sobriety. However, if information regarding alcohol abuse is withheld, death benefits could be denied.
An alcoholic who still actively drinks may not qualify for either a permanent or term life insurance policy. A guaranteed life insurance policy could provide an option for active alcoholics, those with short periods of sobriety or a relapse history. Guaranteed life insurance policies are usually low coverage whole life insurance policies, but could be an option for still-struggling alcoholics. These policies are often issued without a medical exam and are typically more expensive than exam-required life insurance.
Can you get permanent life insurance as a recovering alcoholic?
Yes, you can get permanent life insurance as a recovering alcoholic. Permanent life insurance may be a preferable option if you have lifelong insurance needs. If you buy term life and outlive it, you may be subject to a new underwriting process to get a new policy if you do not convert to a whole life policy ahead of its expiration. Though permanent life insurance is typically more expensive than term, you will not have to recertify your health no matter what happens in the future, as long as you keep the policy paid and in force. Depending on your health status, you could get a cheaper rate with permanent life insurance versus guaranteed issue life insurance.
Tips for getting life insurance as a recovering alcoholic
While finding life insurance as a recovering alcoholic may seem challenging, there are a couple of things you could do to assist you in the process. Some factors that may work in your favor include:
- Having a longer history of sobriety: If you are sober for at least five years, you may have more choices when it comes to life insurance policies. Because reducing any potential risks associated with your health and lifestyle could go a long way in your life insurance eligibility, staying otherwise healthy is usually a good goal to keep.
- Participating in a support group: Actively participating in groups like alcoholics anonymous (AA) or others that are dedicated to supporting those in recovery could signal your continued commitment to sobriety. While it may not directly affect rates, it could make you a lower risk to insure.
- Being honest about your drinking history: While you may be tempted to withhold information regarding your struggles with alcoholism, you could actually put yourself at a greater risk for not receiving claim payments or a death benefit. Trying to minimize your alcoholism or other health-related concerns could cause issues with your coverage or potentially void it.