Drug use as an adjudicative guideline is causing an increasing number of issues for security clearance applicants. Many of those cases involve individuals using drugs in states where recreational marijuana use is illegal. Other instances involve individuals who clearly simply had a problem – or at least an inability to just say no.
True or False Drug Use Can be Mitigated by a ‘Partying’ Lifestyle
A recent case from the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA) highlights how drug use continues to be a security clearance issue, and some of the issues are a bit more obvious than others.
The applicant was a 41-year-old applying for his first security clearance. His response to his security clearance denial included four letters of reference from former employers who said the applicant “was a leader, was masterfully trained and had a reputation for excellence.” Unfortunately, he also had a habit of doing recreational drugs under peer pressure.
The applicant admitted to using drugs, including Adderall, Vicodin, Xanax, and cocaine, for nearly 20 years in a variety of social settings. He said some instances of drug use were because it was New Year’s Eve. He said that he didn’t go looking for controlled substances “but there were times when he did not say ‘No’. when drugs were offered.”
I get it. It’s hard to say no when you’re being offered cocaine at the New Year’s Eve party (clearly I’m being invited to the wrong New Year’s Eve parties). But these arguments won’t hold water in a court of law and they won’t hold water in a DOHA hearing.
False: Partying Isn’t an Excuse
We sometimes talk about how age can be a mitigating factor in security clearance issues. ‘Youthful indiscretion’ can be a valid defense. But 20 years of recreational drug use is more than just the inability to say no – it’s a pattern of violating federal law. ‘Lifestyle’ defenses can work – if you can demonstrate that illegal behavior was tied to a specific timeframe, relationship, or even location. The fact that this individual noted he had a hard time saying no to peer pressure actually highlights the issue of reliability and trustworthiness – if saying no to cocaine at a New Year’s eve party is difficult, what about saying no to the KGB agent who has incriminating information about you?
Another issue that likely worked against the applicant was his argument that he didn’t need counseling because he didn’t have a drug problem. Even if the applicant didn’t see himself as addicted, the pattern of partying and giving in to a variety of substances could clearly be seen as an issue.
Just say no. And if you can’t say no to a host of drugs offered to you, establish at least a 2-3 year pattern of abstinence prior to applying for a clearance.