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Legal Insider: Alcohol and security clearances sometimes don’t mix

This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

We have represented many security clearance holders in security clearance cases involving alcohol usage. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has not helped as many people have engaged in more alcohol usage while working from home offices. In our experience, one of the most common issues that has arisen over the past few years in the context of security clearance holders or applicants involves alcohol abuse or over-consumption.

Alcohol Consumption/Abuse by Cleared Employees or Applicants

Under the security clearance guidelines, alcohol over-consumption and abuse can be a major factor in determining whether a person obtains or keeps their security clearance.

Security concerns regarding this issue fall under Adjudicative Guideline G, Alcohol Consumption of Security Executive Agency Directive (SEAD) 4. These are the guidelines that apply across the Government for security clearance holders.

Alcohol security concerns can come into play when an individual has a major alcohol-related incident. The most common issue that begins a security clearance review is a recent alcohol-related traffic incident, such as being arrested for driving under the influence. A recent event gives security clearance officials pause and makes them ask the question of whether or not it is an isolated incident or something more serious.

Security Concerns Raised by Alcohol Abuse or Consumption

When security clearance issues arise involving alcohol abuse or over-consumption, it is very important to take them seriously.

The major security concern for federal agencies that evaluate security clearances is that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to the use of questionable judgment or the failure to control impulses, both of which are not considered acceptable for purposes of access to classified information. As a result, the Government has listed alcohol-related concerns that could cause one to lose (or not get) a security clearance. Quoting from SEAD 4, these include:

“(a) alcohol-related incidents away from work, such as driving while under the influence, fighting, child or spouse abuse, disturbing the peace, or other incidents of concern, regardless of the frequency of the individual’s alcohol use or whether the individual has been diagnosed with alcohol use disorder

(b) alcohol-related incidents at work, such as reporting for work or duty in an intoxicated or impaired condition, drinking on the job, or jeopardizing the welfare and safety of others, regardless of whether the individual is diagnosed with alcohol use disorder

(c) habitual or binge consumption of alcohol to the point of impaired judgment, regardless of whether the individual is diagnosed with alcohol use disorder

(d) diagnosis by a duly qualified medical or mental health professional (e.g., physician, clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, or licensed clinical social worker) of alcohol use disorder

(e) the failure to follow treatment advice once diagnosed

(f) alcohol consumption, which is not in accordance with treatment recommendations, after a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder

(g) failure to follow any court order regarding alcohol education, evaluation, treatment, or abstinence.”

How to Mitigate Alcohol-Related Security Concerns

The Government has established a number of ways in which a security clearance holder or applicant can mitigate alcohol-related security concerns. They include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • A significant amount of time has passed since the alcohol-related incident
  • The alcohol usage or related incident was unusual and/or is unlikely to happen again
  • The individual acknowledges their alcohol issue and provides evidence to show that they have overcome it or are seriously working on the alcohol issues through treatment
  • The individual has completed a treatment program and established a pattern of modified consumption or abstinence

Alcohol consumption security clearance issues can involve many different variables so seeking experienced counsel is critical; every case is different. The key for successfully handling alcohol-related security clearance issues is to focus on them as early as possible.

Contact Us

If you are in need of security clearance law representation or advice, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or through our contact page to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook or Twitter.

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