People abuse substances such as drugs, alcohol, and tobacco for varied and complicated reasons.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimated the number of users of illicit drugs in 2014 in the United States ages 12 and over to be about 7 million and an estimated 17 million Americans abuse or are dependent on alcohol.  These abuses cost the U.S. more than $700 billion annually in expenses related to crime, lost work productivity, and health care.

While the definition of substance abuse has nuances that can vary depending on who is defining it, life insurance underwriters acknowledge the Psychiatric Text Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder’s definition.  Substance abuse is a maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by one (or more) of the following, occurring within a 12-month period:

  • Recurrent use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
  • Recurrent use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
  • Recurrent legal problems due to drug use.
  • Continued use despite social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of the substance.

Substance abuse also causes increased mortality risk; therefore life insurance companies do not take a history of substance abuse lightly.  Mortality risks among substance abusers include:

  • Deaths from natural causes such as the poisonous effects of substances and from infections (hepatitis/HIV/endocarditis) from injectables.
  • Accidental deaths from overdose and trauma (motor vehicle accidents, falls, etc.).
  • Violent deaths from suicide and homicide.

Other points that increase the risk associated with substance abuse:

  • Multiple or polydrug use/abuse, especially involving illicit street drugs.
  • Substance abuse in the presence of a known psychiatric impairment.
  • Substance abuse in the presence of known interaction with the legal system, such as adverse driving record or other arrest record.
  • Substance abuse in the presence of social (occupation, marital, familial) or behavioral problems.

There are drugs that have legitimate uses in addition to their abuse potential.  Underwriters take how the drug is being used into consideration when evaluating an application.  Below is a table of common drugs (divided by classes) and their possible legitimate uses.

drug chart

If I have a history of substance abuse, can I buy life insurance?

Anyone currently abusing a substance will be declined for life insurance coverage.  Life insurance companies may consider applicants with a history of abuse, as long as applicant had discontinued use for, typically, a minimum of two years.

Each life insurance company has their own unique underwriting guide they follow when evaluating applications.  This guide also states how they underwrite applicants with a history of substance abuse.  After evaluating an application, they give a classification to the applicant.  This classification can be a “standard” risk class or a table rating.  There are different standard risk classes depending if you use tobacco or not as well.  A table rating typically means that your pricing for life insurance will be the Standard price plus 25% for every step down the table you are.  Non-Tobacco risk classes will have the least expensive insurance premiums.  See the tables below for reference.

Non-Tobacco Risk Classifications

Tobacco Risk Classifications

Preferred Plus

Preferred Tobacco


Standard Tobacco

Standard Plus



Table Rating

The Extra Percentage Added to Premium

Table A


Table B


Table C


Table D


Table E


Table F


Table G


Table H


Table I


Table J



When underwriting a history of drug abuse, underwriters will focus on:

  • Severity and frequency of the abuse
  • Type of drug abused
  • Severity of associated complications
  • Evidence of dependence and/or withdrawal
  • Legal problems related to abuse (such as DUIs)
  • Abuse of multiple drugs (including alcohol)
  • Number of relapses
  • Current participation in a group such as Narcotics Anonymous.

It pays to work with an agency that has contracts with multiple life insurance carriers, because while one company may deny or table an applicant, another company may offer standard ratings to that same applicant.  This is especially common when it comes to marijuana use.  For example, some carriers would classify recreational marijuana use as “tobacco use” and would only offer tobacco ratings to the applicant, while another company may offer preferred non-tobacco rates as long as the use is minimal.


It pays to work with an agency that has contracts with multiple life insurance carriers, because while one company may deny or table an applicant, another company may offer standard ratings to that same applicant.

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A benefit to working with Quotacy is that we work with multiple A-rated life insurance companies.  We have the ability to shop cases around to different companies to try our best to get an applicant approved.

Our in-house underwriter has worked in many carrier home offices, knows how to navigate each individual’s health and lifestyle history, and knows which life insurance company would be the best option for your individual case.  If you are ready to buy life insurance coverage, get a term life insurance quote now and let’s start the process.


Photo credit to: Rémi Walle



About the writer

Headshot of Natasha Cornelius, a life insurance writer, for Quotacy, Inc.

Natasha Cornelius

Marketing Content and Social Media Manager

Natasha is a content manager and editor for Quotacy. She has worked in the life insurance industry since 2010, and making life insurance easier to understand with her writing since 2014. When not at work, you can find her throwing a tennis ball for her pit bull mix, Emmett, or curled up on her couch watching Netflix. If it’s football season, the Packers game will be on. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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