Clearance chances

I’m wondering about the chances of me getting a clearance.

I’m currently a graduate student, looking at jobs with contractors in the coming months. I have lots of student loan debt (100k+), but being that I’m single with no dependents, I can cover this with my expected salary.

I have a history of heavy alcohol use. Pretty well drunk most nights of the week, for a few years. Never once a legal issue, no DWI, DUI, or other encounter. It’s been something I do at home to pass time, never when I have something important coming up. I have no problem abstaining when needed. I’ve recently (last several weeks) stopped drinking. I don’t intend to touch alcohol again for a long time.

I have no criminal background, no drug use, no other questionable personal issues.

Can anyone give me an idea of how much this is going to impact my chances of getting either a Secret or Top Secret clearance? If I need a clearance (which is quite likely), I’m expecting to start the process in a few months. Would I be better off delaying a while, to build a history of abstinence? Or am I better off looking for jobs that don’t require clearance at all?

The problem here likely isn’t the drinking, although that may come into play. The fact that there has never been a legal issue is great, so there shouldn’t be too much worry there.
The student loan debt is a large problem, unfortunately. Even if you have a plan to work it off and you know you can do it, a large debt like that would make anyone worried. There are some investigators here that will likely give you their exact thoughts, but for example someone in my group had $20k in debt and it was a big deal for his personal interview and came up constantly during the entire process.

You should look into this post:

As for the alcohol part: I would say that it probably wouldn’t disqualify you from a clearance, but you can really improve your chances by seeking treatment (e.g. AA) and documenting it. Since you say that you have no trouble abstaining, then this should be a breeze.

However, I would put some caution to you about how this will impact your hiring timeline. I am going through this transition personally (graduate student to cleared contractor employee) and you have to understand that it, on average, takes a few months to go from ‘looking for a job’ to ‘hired, filling out SF-86’. If you could get an interim, then that would only take a month or three, and you could start work in a reasonable amount of time. Or you could do non-cleared work for a company/agency while waiting. But if you get yourself in a situation where you accept a ‘job offer conditional on clearance’, then you could be in for a long wait. Your file isn’t exactly squeaky-clean, and it’s very likely that you will have to list some foreign friends (it just comes as a part of going to grad school). So odds are pretty well against an interim. If you need to wait for the full clearance, then you might not be able to start work for 6-9 months after accepting the job offer.

If you can stomach that risk, then go for it. But I would really caution against accepting a conditional job offer unless you can manage that timeline.

Student loan debt shouldn’t be a problem unless you have a problem paying before you get to work. It’s a pretty common (unfortunately) amount of debt for a grad student.

The drinking WILL be a problem. It’s going to show up through your listed contacts or through developed contacts. Help is clearly indicated and will make thing go smoother with ANY employment, with your clearance process and with cleared employment along with your life in general. “I only get drunk at home after work” isn’t something that an employer wants to hear.