Security Clearance Attorney Sean M. Bigley represents clients worldwide in security clearance denials and revocations. He is a former investigator for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. For more information, please visit

This article is Part II in a three-part series on security clearance holders and alcohol abuse.

Someone recently asked me whether attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings would be an admission that he was an alcoholic, thus jeopardizing his security clearance.

I had to smile at the irony in the question: merely attending AA meetings doesn’t admit to alcoholism, but getting anything out of those meetings required the individual admit to himself that he was an alcoholic (which happens to be the first step of AA). You can’t deal with a problem before you accept that it exists.

Whether or not that person was ultimately ready to accept his alcoholism, I did assure him that attending AA meetings would not jeopardize his security clearance. To the contrary, throwing himself into the program, obtaining a sponsor, and taking it seriously might just save his clearance and his career.  That’s because for a true alcoholic it’s not a matter of “if” but “when” security officials discover there is a problem. And when that happens, only a good-faith (and effective) effort to heal one’s self is sufficient to overcome security concerns.

Alcoholism – A Problem Generally Uncovered in Unfavorable Circumstances

If the questioner in this story sounds like you, understand that the government will discover your alcoholism in one of several ways: your honest self-reporting of the issue on security clearance forms; your arrest for an alcohol-related offense; or concerns raised by colleagues over signs and symptoms that are difficult to hide. Inevitably, you will be questioned about the concerns under penalty of a felony false statements charge. You may also be referred for a substance abuse evaluation by a government psychologist or other medical authority. Those evaluations are probing and tend to result in damning evidence for subsequent security clearance revocation proceedings.

The point here is that by the time any of the above outcomes occur it is often too late for you to do anything about it. No matter how vigorously you throw yourself into treatment, counseling, or a self-imposed abstinence regimen, there will be insufficient time to show compliance before your security clearance and career come crashing down. That’s a heavy price to pay – and one that you alone have the power to avoid.

Take it from someone who has seen too many good people needlessly lose their careers: the stigma of alcoholism is much better than the stigma of being deemed an unemployable national security risk.


This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

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Attorney Sean M. Bigley represents clients worldwide in security clearance denials, revocations, and the security clearance application process. He is a former investigator for the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (then-U.S. Office of Personnel Management). For more information, please visit Readers will also find a low-cost, self-help option for obtaining copies of their security clearance background investigations and DISS/Scattered Castles records at