Thanks for joining us in our Embark blogpost series, where we address some of our tips for supporting people with accessing the NDIS. Embark provides support to people in the Sydney Metropolitan area that are living with a mental health condition and experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness, to access the NDIS. [You can make a referral to our free service via:] 

You can also get in touch for support – via Embark Upskill, we facilitate free workshops across NSW, open to anyone who wants to improve their confidence and understanding of the NDIS in order to support people with a mental illness to access the NDIS and obtain the supports they need. [Make an enquiry via: 


NDIS access and co-existing AOD use 

Contrary to what some might think, you CAN access the NDIS even when you might have co-existing use or misuse of alcohol or other drugs (AOD). Co-existing AOD use can, however, present some additional challenges with getting through an NDIS application, so in today’s post we’ll explore some of our advice around this. 


NDIS supports and AOD use? 

An important thing to understand about the NDIS and AOD use is that the NDIS does not provide services around ‘co-morbidity’. This includes for conditions like substance abuse or dependency, that someone might experience alongside their disability. Treatment for drug or alcohol dependency is classified by the NDIS as a ‘mainstream’ support or service – that is, something that a person should receive support for through other health or AOD services. 

Remember though, a person can still also access or plan to access treatment for AOD use when they are applying for the NDIS, or when they have an NDIS plan in place.  


Co-existing AOD and psychosocial disability? 

If a person is seeking to access the NDIS with a psychosocial (or other) disability, they can still meet the NDIS access requirements regardless of any co-existing dependency issue(s). The NDIA just needs enough information (or evidence) to show that the functional impact of the psychosocial disability is because of a mental health condition, and not any co-existing conditions.  

Where co-existing AOD use is present, the evidence must demonstrate that the substantially reduced functional capacity remains regardless of this, and the NDIA usually wants this confirmed by:  

  • A report about function from a time when a person was not using AOD (e.g. an inpatient facility, extended hospital stay, rehab clinic) 
  • A statement from a clinician that confirms the disability exists independently of AOD use (e.g. the person was diagnosed with a likely permanent mental health condition prior to AOD use) 
  • A specialist neuropsychiatrist or neuropsychologist report. Access to these types of assessments will not be feasible for everyone and can be costly. If applicable, consult with a neuropsychologist about the potential use of an assessment for access purposes prior to proceeding down this path. 

Remember, there is no requirement of abstinence to satisfy NDIS eligibility. 


Overcoming barriers when supporting someone with co-existing AOD use  

There can be additional barriers to supporting someone with co-existing AOD use with the NDIS application process. At project Embark we have a bit of experience with this, so we’ve listed some of the potential barriers below, and our advice on how we’d address them: 

  • Timing: For people who have AOD dependencies, consider whether this is the right time to begin the application process. Sometimes holding off until there is a little more stability in someone’s life can make the application process faster and more efficient, which can produce a better outcome.   
  • Memory / information gathering: When discussing the NDIS, it’s important to keep in mind that coexisting AOD dependencies can impact memory recall and cognition, which may impact the quality of information you’re able to obtain from a person. You may consider asking if it’s okay to speak to a support person, and to start gathering anecdotal and observational information about their day-to-day routine as you support them through the process. 
  • Stigma / discrimination: It is worth being aware that stigma and discrimination around AOD use are still prevalent in our community, including amongst professionals. Therefore, when evidencing a person’s disability, focus on that disability and how it impacts on the person day-to-day, rather than focusing on their co-existing issues, such as their AOD use. 
  • Not connected to supports: People with AOD dependencies may not be well connected to supports, or may not have a regular medical professional that they are familiar with. You may need to support them with connecting with a GP, and/or psychologist or psychiatrist, over a couple of appointments, in order to get support with signing off on their application 
    • Support the person to understand that this is a necessary step in getting the NDIS and those further supports in place 
    • Support the professional by pre-filling the evidence documents with as much information as possible. 


So, there’s some more advice and strategies for working with people to overcome barriers to accessing the NDIS. This can be a challenging journey, but worthwhile for supporting someone to get much needed, longer-term supports in place.  


More resources


Thanks again for joining us. Please be in touch with any questions or suggested topics for future content via [email protected] 

ICLA’s Embark program is funded by the NSW Ministry of Health to support people with a mental health condition who are experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness to access the NDIS.