How to Obtain or Maintain a Security Clearance Despite Prior Drug Use

  • Guideline H: Drug Involvement and Substance Misuse

Published: October 19, 2021

Under Guideline H, Drug Involvement, the government may have security concerns about past or current illegal drug use since this can raise questions as to your judgment, trustworthiness, reliability, and integrity. Those possessing a security clearance are required to be responsible and reliable when it comes to their duties, and this responsibility is not limited to official activity during business hours. It extends to all personal conduct occurring off-duty hours as well. The government runs a tight ship when it comes to drug usage since drugs can alter your state of mind thereby impacting your judgment, or alternatively, may serve as a basis for coercion.

So, does this mean that if you have had any illegal involvement with drugs, you have no chance of obtaining or maintaining a security clearance? No, but you will have to mitigate the government’s concerns. This means proving that your previous drug usage will not impact the government’s ability to trust you, or that your current drug use was under such circumstances that it does not raise a concern (i.e., innocent ingestion).

While there are many different bases that can trigger Guideline H concerns, the most common is usage prior to obtaining a clearance—whether that is disclosed during the application process or whether it comes up years later after already receiving a clearance—such as when applying for a Top Secret Clearance, which includes a more extensive inquiry into your past and present conduct. In this respect, several key factors to whether this concern is significant enough to preclude you from obtaining a clearance or to cause your clearance to be revoked are:

When the usage occurred and the duration of abstinence since the last usage; The frequency, duration, and context of use; How the government became aware of the usage (proactive affirmative disclosure, disclosure in anticipation of being caught, failing a drug test, etc.); Whether you voluntarily sought evaluation, counseling, or other treatment; Whether you possessed a clearance at the time of your use, and Whether you possess an intent to continue misusing any controlled or illegal substances.
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