Has your FAA medical certificate been denied for “substance dependence?” The first thing to know is that the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) has a different definition of “substance dependence” than does the rest of the medical community. Specifically, the medical community typically evaluates whether an individual has a “substance use disorder” by determining whether that individual meets criteria under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (“DSM”). The FAA is usually quick to argue, however, that just because your psychiatrist, primary care physician, substance use counselor, or other healthcare professional doesn’t think you meet criteria for a disorder under the DSM, you can still meet criteria for “substance dependence” under the Federal Aviation Regulations (“FARs”). In other words, it’s easier to meet the FAA’s criteria for “substance dependence.”

So, how does the FAA define “substance dependence?” The FAA defines their criteria for “substance dependence” at 14 C.F.R. §67.107(a)(4)(ii), 14 C.F.R. §67.207(a)(4)(ii), and 14 C.F.R. §67.307(a)(4)(ii). These regulations, respectfully, coordinate to criteria for first-class, second-class, and third-class medical certification; however, the definition for “substance dependence” is identical across first-class, second-class, and third-class medical certification. The pertinent language from the FARs is as follows:

(ii) ‘Substance dependence’ means a condition in which a person is dependent on a substance, other than tobacco or ordinary xanthine-containing (e.g., caffeine) beverages, as evidenced by –

(A) Increased tolerance;

(B) Manifestation of withdrawal symptoms;

(C) Impaired control of use; or

(D) Continued use despite damage to physical health or impairment of social, personal, or occupational functioning.”

See 14 C.F.R. §67.107, here: 14 CFR § 67.107 – Mental. | CFR | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute (cornell.edu)

Read in full, the regulation requires the doctors in the FAA’s Office of Aerospace Medicine to review your case to establish whether your medical history meets one of these four criteria. These criteria will be reviewed in greater detail in later writings. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the FAA only has to think that you meet one of these criteria, rather than all four.

What does the FAA review to establish whether you meet criteria for “substance dependence?” The most common records that the FAA doctors review are police reports from DUI arrests, hospital records from motor vehicle accidents which involved drugs or alcohol, records from substance abuse facilities, and primary care physicians. Other times, when the FAA suspects you may have “substance dependence,” they will ask for you to provide a statement, identifying your past, present, and future plans of alcohol use. More often than not, these statements can also reveal to the FAA that an airman meets criteria for “substance dependence.”

Ultimately, if you feel you’ve been wrongly identified as meeting the FAA’s criteria for “substance dependence,” you need to consult with a FAA medical defense attorney.  If your FAA medical certificate was denied for “substance dependence,” there are opportunities for the FAA’s decision to be reconsidered and appealed. Learn more about what a FAA medical defense attorney at The Ison Law Firm can do for you. FAA Substance Abuse – The Pilot Lawyer

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